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SU pass motion to lobby to remove the Sackler name from library

Flora Dyson reports on the SU's motion to rename the library.

A motion to remove the Sackler Library name from the Bodleian Libraries building has been passed by the Student Union. The motion, heard in the 3rd-week council meeting, was passed by 89% with 40 votes, 5 against and 6 abstentions. 

The motion has mandated the SU President and Vice-President Charities and Community to lobby the Oxford University to drop the Sackler name from the building due to their involvement in the opioid epidemics in the U.S. 

The wealth of the Sackler Library was raised in part by the Sackler family who are associated with the US opioid crisis. The Sackler family owns Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company which played a role in the epidemic which killed over 500,000 Americans alone since 1999, according to Bloomberg News. 

Purdue Pharma introduced the prescription painkiller and opioid OxyContin which they heavily promoted. Aside from offering pain relief, misuse of OxyContin can result in addiction, overdose, and death. Perdue Pharma has faced over 1,600 lawsuits regarding the widely available painkiller. Following a 2007 lawsuit, Purdue Pharma paid $600 million in fines for misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about the drug’s risk of addiction and its potential for abuse.

Oxford University has received over £11 million in donations from the Sacklers. The Sackler Family Trust and the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation have made several philanthropic donations to UK institutions, including the National Gallery, Tate Modern, and UCL, amounting to £80 million. They are estimated to be America’s 30th richest family, according to Forbes.

The proposer of the SU motion, Marco Rodriguez, told Cherwell that Oxford is displaying “no intentions to review past or current contributions from this family, and it is publicly reiterating their intentions to continue receiving funds from them.”

“It would be difficult, if not impossible, [for Oxford University] to dissociate their funding with all the pain and sorrow the abuse of Oxycontin has brought to American society. The faster Oxford breaks links with this name, the better.”

“We can conclude that the Student Union may not have the power to change Oxford’s decision but certainly has the moral ground. It indeed has the right (legitimacy) to define a principled stand on behalf of the students, be public about, and criticize the University’s decision.”

Rodriguez commented on the difficulty of higher education institutions to obtain funding which coerces them to turn to individual sources: “We also must accept that universities in the UK must rely on different funding sources rather than public funds, as the government contribution to higher education has diminished progressively… [There is] considerable pressure on raising funds from other sources, especially from wealthy private individuals or corporate funds.”

In regards to receiving philanthropic donations, a spokesperson for the Bodleian Libraries told Cherwell: “All major prospective donors are carefully considered by the University’s Committee to Review Donations under the University’s guidelines for acceptance. The Committee considers the sources of an individual’s or organisation’s wealth and may reconsider a donor in the light of new information. The University monitors significant developments in the public domain and the Committee considers donors when potential donations are brought to their attention.”

Oxford University, Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler Family Trust have been contacted for comment.

Image: Howard Stanbury/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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