Elizabeth Warren supports removal of Sackler from Harvard buildings

Elizabeth Warren pledges to pick a former public school teacher as secretary of education if elected

Sen. Elizabeth Warren supports removing the Sackler name from all Harvard buildings and museums, a campaign aide told CNN Wednesday, on the heels of the senator’s release of an opioid epidemic plan in which she excoriated the family behind the pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma.

Activists and others have called on the removal of the name from Harvard’s museum collection of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean art — which is named after Arthur M. Sackler — as well as other properties bearing the name. The Sackler family has donated significant funds to Harvard.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has been accused of knowingly exacerbating the opioid addiction crisis.

Warren, a former Harvard law professor, wrote in a Medium post Wednesday morning that Americans deserve a country “where when people like the Sacklers destroy millions of lives to make money, they don’t get museum wings named after them, they go to jail.”

Asked by CNN whether the Democratic presidential candidate supports the removal of the family name from any Harvard buildings and museums, the aide said she does.

This new position from Warren puts her at odds with Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow, who said recently that it would be “inappropriate” for Harvard to remove the Sackler family name from any campus buildings and to return donations from the family, according to the Harvard Crimson.

A spokesperson for the Sackler family initially responded to a CNN request for comment on Warren’s position by saying it would serve “no proper political purpose” and defending Purdue Pharma as “the industry leader in combatting opioid abuse while providing products essential for the treatment of serious chronic pain.”

That spokesperson later clarified that the statement was made only in response to Warren donating past contributions from Sackler family members, and not to her position on Harvard buildings. The spokesperson declined to comment on Warren’s position on removing the Sackler name from Harvard buildings.

Warren had also taken another move earlier in the day to distance herself from the family.

Her 2018 Senate re-election campaign received thousands of dollars from members of the Sackler family. A campaign aide told CNN on Wednesday that the money — amounting to $4,500 — has been donated to charity already, though they have not yet specified which charity. The aide also said they were not aware of any money given by any Sackler family members to Warren’s presidential campaign.

Politico first reported the Warren campaign’s decision to return donations from the Sackler family.

All of this comes after Warren’s release of an opioid crisis plan that would provide $100 billion in treatment, provider support and research funds over 10 years.

The Massachusetts senator heads to West Virginia on Friday to highlight the epidemic and as the opioid crisis has become an urgent focus on Capitol Hill and in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Warren is slated to begin a two-day trip through West Virginia and Ohio with a stop in Kermit, West Virginia, on Friday morning. A congressional report revealed last year that a pharmaceutical company had shipped more than 3 million prescription opioids over 10 months — about 10,000 pills a day on average — to a single pharmacy in the town of 400 people.

More than 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Update: This story has been updated with additional comment from a spokesperson for the Sackler family.