March 21, 2019; Crosscut, ArtNet, Boston Globe, and The Conversation
Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor, wrote an article in The Conversation this week about why revolutions “seem to come out of nowhere.” (We know, of course, that they often come from the hard work of devoted organizers and committed, radical changemakers—but let’s go with this for a minute.) One of the three reasons he cited was “diverse thresholds,” which he defined in the following way:
Different people require different levels of social support before they will rebel or say what they actually think. Some people might require no support at all…Other people might require a little support. They will not speak out or take action unless someone else does, but if someone does, they are prepared to rebel as well. Call them the “ones.” Others might require more than a little; they are the “twos.”
And so on and so forth.
This week, where the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma are concerned, one has become two, and more are lining up. NPQ reported on Wednesday that the National Gallery in London had become the first art institution to reject money from the Sacklers when they walked away from a £1 million ($1.32 million) pledged grant. Yesterday, the Times of London reported that the Tate Modern museum declared they would no longer accept money from the Sackler Trust.
A statement from the Tate declared,
The Sackler family has given generously to Tate in the past, as they have to a large number of UK arts institutions. We do not intend to remove references to this historic philanthropy. However, in the present circumstances we do not think it right to seek or accept further donations from the Sacklers.
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The Tate said they reached their decision in “agreement” with the Sackler Family Trust, at the recommendation of the museum’s ethics committee. To our earlier point about devoted organizers, the Tate has been facing strong pressure from artist-activist Nan Goldin and her group, called PAIN, which advocates for institutions to disavow the Sacklers and remove their name from the wings or projects they have endowed. Last month, Goldin and PAIN staged a “die-in” at the Metropolitan and Guggenheim museums in New York, but neither of those institutions has yet taken action.
However, the Tate is not alone. This month, the last postdoc in the University of Washington (UW)’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler Scholars Program in Integrative Biophysics will complete their work. When they do, all ties between the university and the Sacklers will be ended.
Already, the program’s page lives only in the archives; mention of it has been scrubbed from the university’s website. Its director, Stan Froehrer, has been given another position, as holder of the UW Medicine Distinguished Endowed Professorship. UW spokesman Victor Balta confirmed, “The UW has no endowed funds from the Sacklers; all donated funds were immediately expendable.” The Sacklers had given about $1.5 million for the program.
It’s not just nonprofits that are boxing the Sacklers into a corner. Yesterday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform filed a letter sent to Craig Landau, president and CEO of Purdue Pharma, demanding:
- A list of all members of the Sackler family that have served on the Board of Directors, as corporate officers, or in any other capacity for Purdue Pharma…
- All internal and external presentation, analyses, or other documents prepared for or provided to any member of the Sackler family referring or related to sales or marketing strategies for each of Purdue’s and its subsidiaries’ prescription opioid products and substance use disorder treatments;
- All communications between employees or officers of Purdue and its subsidiaries and members of the Sackler family regarding sales and marketing for each of Purdue’s and its subsidiaries’ prescription opioid products and substance use disorder treatments; and
- All internal and external presentations, analyses, or documents, including email and other communications, concerning FDA labeling for OxyContin.
The House oversight committee seems to believe that Purdue Pharma lobbied the FDA to change the labeling on OxyContin “despite lack of medical justification” to increase sales. The committee also suspects that despite Purdue’s promise (as part of a lawsuit settlement) in 2006 to change their training and compliance systems to prevent fraudulent marketing, they have continued their fraudulent practices.
Finally, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed all over the country against Purdue, and on Wednesday, the Boston Globe announced yet another. Five hundred city and county governments have joined in Baldwin County, AL v. Richard Sackler, which the Globe called “one of a handful” of lawsuits to name the Sackler family as well as the company they own. The families responded to this suit the same way they have to the others, saying, “These baseless allegations place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis, and we deny them.” They pointed out that other pharma companies also manufacture opioids, although they failed to note that those other companies, such as Insys and Johnson & Johnson, also face lawsuits.
If Sunstein is right, and revolutions happen when the one domino (pushed over by activists) tips into another, then it seems possible the game is up for the Sacklers. “Last to reject tainted philanthropy” is not a label any nonprofit should want to bear.—Erin Rubin