Oxford University urged to review donor policy after protests over Sackler ties

Students and academics at the University of Oxford have called for a comprehensive review of policies surrounding its donor relationships, following revelations that the elite institution courted the Sackler family even after others cut ties.

A Financial Times investigation on Monday showed that, over the last two years, Oxford has extended exclusive invitations to a member of the Sackler family and accepted funds from a Sackler family charity, while retaining the Sackler naming rights in buildings and grants. university study.

During that time, members of the Sackler family, owners of pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, negotiated a multibillion-dollar bankruptcy settlement due to their role in the deadly opioid epidemic in the United States.

Speaking to the FT, more than 10 Oxford students and staff members expressed outrage at the findings, while the student union said it would “raise them with the university”.

Almost all said the university should launch a broad review that extends beyond the Sacklers to assess current and former donors’ access to senior university figures and exclusive events, as well as their naming rights in academic buildings and positions.

“They need to come up with a new standardized policy on who they invite to what. . . in consultation with various university and city groups,” said Paula Larsson, PhD student and co-founder of Uncomfortable Oxford, which organizes tours that highlight the city’s legacies of imperialism, inequality and discrimination.

Most other major cultural institutions around the world have already severed ties with the Sacklers, removing their names from buildings and rejecting donations after public outcry over the family’s role in the opioid crisis and protests led by American artist Nan Goldin.

Dorothy Bishop, Emeritus Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology and Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, said it was “difficult to understand why Oxford has taken no action given that so many other institutions have already recognized that this is a very problematic relationship to have”. .

“I was heavily influenced by reading empire of pain and I am disappointed that Oxford did not follow other institutions in disassociating itself from the Sacklers,” she added, referring to American journalist Patrick Radden Keefe’s book about the family and her company’s addictive pain reliever OxyContin.

Professor Dorothy Bishop expressed disappointment that Oxford had not disassociated itself from the Sacklers © Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGIUM/Reuters

Many people said they hoped the appointment of Irene Tracey, a professor of anesthetic neuroscience, as Oxford’s vice chancellor in January would encourage the university to accept their request for a change. Tracey specializes in pain, a topic she teaches undergraduate medical students.

“I’d like to think that my institution is about ethics and not about money,” Bishop said. “The new vice-chancellor is a good person to ask to handle this.”

In an “introductory conversation with the vice chancellor” for university officials on Wednesday afternoon, several questions submitted via an online chat about Oxford’s relationship with the Sacklers went unanswered, according to two participants. Organizers said outstanding questions will be answered after the event.

Irene Tracey
The appointment of Irene Tracey as vice chancellor raised hopes that the university would accept requests for change © Leon Neal/Getty Images

Oxford said Tracey approved, in her first week as vice chancellor, an “in-depth review and assessment of all aspects of the relationship between the university and the Sackler family and its funds”, which was informed by students and staff.

“As a leading neuroscientist, Professor Tracey is very aware of the opioid issue and therefore understands why there is such deep feeling within the university community and more broadly,” he said, adding that her “first priority has been to address the need for plus as many staff and students as possible.”

Tracey’s predecessor, Dame Louise Richardson, warned against “cancelling” benefactors in December in an interview with the FT.

In 2021, when Richardson was in charge, a motion passed by the student union to rename the Sackler Library was not accepted by the university.

The student union said it was “concerned by these revelations about continued financial ties to the Sackler family and is raising this with the university.”

Louise Richardson
Louise Richardson, former vice-chancellor, warned against ‘cancelling’ benefactors © Tom Pilston/FT

Shame on Sackler Oxford, a campaign group, has circulated a petition in recent weeks calling for the university to remove the Sackler name from all academic buildings and offices and sever all material ties.

Phillip Pyle, the group’s founder and master’s student, said the university’s social connections with the Sacklers were not initially detailed in the petition, but will now be added.

“That was what was so shocking, to see that the university still has a social relationship with the Sacklers,” he said.

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