George Etheredge / The New York Times

The headquarters of Purdue Pharma in Stamford, Conn.

October 3, 2019

Cornell Received Millions From Scandal-Ridden Sackler Family — But the University Says It Won’t Accept More

Print More

Cornell University and Weill Cornell accepted over $5 million in gifts over the past five years from foundations associated with the Sacklers, a family of billionaires whose pharmaceutical dealings are accused of helping to catalyze the devastating American opioid crisis.

An Associated Press report on Thursday morning revealed that Cornell was one of at least nine schools that received large sums — over $1 million — from organizations run by the family since 2013.

Now, Cornell has changed its tune.

“Cornell University no longer accepts gifts from the Sackler family and its philanthropies,” John Carberry, Cornell’s senior director of media relations and news, said in a statement to The Sun on Thursday morning.

Carberry and the University declined to comment on the details of how and when the decision was made.

Cornell accepted gifts from the foundation through 2018 — when the University, not Weill, took in at least $370,000 USD between two donations, taxes filed with the Canadian government show.

Purdue Pharma, which manufactured the opioid OxyContin, and its Sackler family leadership were sued in 2007 for “misbranding” the drug, and shelled out over $600 million in personal and company fees. Today, it faces another lawsuit from thousands of municipalities on behalf of now-addicted residents, and last month’s proposed settlement — which would require relinquishing the company and forfeiting $3 billion — has punctuated the family’s fall from grace.

Tax documents show that, since 2013, Cornell and Weill have accepted charitable gifts ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year from organizations run by the family.  The partnership is nothing new; Cornell’s Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, located at Weill, was established in 1996 with a gift from The Sackler Foundation.

In 2014, Weill Cornell took in around $1.62 million USD in donations from La Fondation Sackler, the Canada-based arm of the The Sackler Foundation. That same year, lawsuits accused the company of trying to vastly ramp up product sales, which in turn contributed to a rise in nationwide addiction.

The next year, the foundation gifted another $1.63 million USD to Weill’s coffers — second only among disclosed donated-to schools to the University of Glasgow.

The AP’s report noted that not all donations are public, as universities are not required to disclose donations, and that some gifts were not included in tax records but “previously publicized major gifts from the Sacklers.”

In 2012, a gift from The Sackler Foundation established two additional endowed Weill professorships and an additional fund, but Cornell did not reveal the donation’s figure.

In 2016, as the Sackler Institute hit its 20-year mark and court proceedings shed a light on the Sacklers’ role in Purdue’s dealings, The Sackler Foundation’s giving to Weill Cornell dropped to around $200,000, with a number in the same range the following year.

The filings list “qualified donees,” which include bodies that can issue a receipt to the donor.

Within the first month of 2018, groups had begun to call upon large institutions to refuse philanthropy from the family. The editorial board of the Harvard Crimson published an editorial on January 26, 2018, imploring Harvard — whose on-campus Arthur M. Sackler Museum was funded by Arthur M. Sackler himself — to cut ties.

Cornell’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art accepted around $109,000 in art from the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation in 2014.

Other institutions, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and Britain’s National Portrait Gallery, have elected to drop the Sackler name in recent years.

Sackler’s involvement on Harvard’s campus led to protests throughout 2018, with the president ruling in May of this year that it would be “inappropriate” to remove the name, The Harvard Crimson reported.

Carberry, Cornell’s spokesperson, stated Thursday that “The Sackler Institute will continue to do its important work.”

“I think that all large institutions are wrestling now with the ethics of donations,” Prof. Louis Hyman, industrial and labor relations, said regarding the report. “Perhaps ask someone in the philosophy department?”