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Iboga plant controversy petition captures international attention

A petition calling for the reinstatement of two Miami University Hamilton professors and a Hamilton campus employee has received nearly 2,500 signatures, and attention from biologists and botanists across the globe.

The petition, drafted by Miami's chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), was created in response to the resignation of Hamilton Conservatory manager Brian Grubb and former Miami Provost Phyllis Callahan's recommendation to terminate John Cinnamon and Daniel Gladish for growing a hallucinogenic-producing plant in the Hamilton Conservatory.

Tabernanthe iboga, commonly referred to as iboga, is a plant that comes from the African country of Gabon. It is suspected that Cinnamon, an anthropologist, acquired iboga seeds while visiting Gabon and gave them to Gladish, the director of the conservatory, according to police reports.

Cinnamon's lawyer, Erin Heidrich, claims the professor does not remember receiving the seeds, but, if he had, he would have given them to the conservatory for research.

The online petition was signed by thousands of people requesting the university reconsider their decision to fire the professors. The petition included a comment section, and Miami's AAUP chapter received hundreds of comments from people world-wide expressing support for the faculty members.

"It would appear whoever made this decision knows very little about botany, the importance of living material for study - or research in general," wrote Mary Endress, Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich (Switzerland).

"Academics need support, not persecution," wrote Kenneth Cameron, the director of the nation's largest university botany department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Botanical Society of America (BSA), and the American Anthropological Association (AAA) both sent letters to University President Gregory Crawford that communicated their concern about the punishment of the professors.

"It is important to note that just because a plant-derived compound is considered a controlled substance by the DEA, this does not automatically require that the plant be treated as one-and-the-same," reads an excerpt from BSA's letter.

BSA wrote that a more appropriate solution would be to create guidelines for future cultivation of plants like iboga.

An excerpt of AAA's letter reads: "Our Association is committed to basic principles of academic freedom, including the fundamental right of teachers and students to be free to pursue advances in knowledge based on systematic observation, interpretation, critique, publication and commentary. The decision to terminate Cinnamon, Gladish and Grubb would be in direct contradiction to these principles, and to us, termination of employment under these circumstances seems overly harsh."

Miami's AAUP president Cathy Wagner said she is currently finalizing the petition and will be delivering it to Crawford in the near future.

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Wagner also said that the university has not reached out to AAUP regarding the petition and that it's uncommon for the university to contact AAUP, which is something she hopes will change going forward.

"We think that they've been treated very harshly and unfairly," Wagner said of the university's actions against Cinnamon, Gladish and Grubb. "Our goal is to have these faculty keep their jobs and ideally to have the manager [Grubb] get his job back. That would be the best outcome."

Gladish is currently appealing his recommended termination, and Cinnamon will appeal upon his return from medical leave.