Two Miami University professors are in danger of losing their jobs, and another staff member’s position was not renewed because of a plant whose roots can be made into a mind-altering drug used in coming-of-age rites in West Africa.
Brian Grubb, manager of The Conservatory on Miami’s Hamilton campus, officially resigned his position under pressure. He also worked as a biological sciences instructor and was employed on a year-to-year basis.
Professor Daniel Gladish, who has taught a variety of courses, mainly about plants and biology, was suspended with pay, as was associate professor of anthropology John Cinnamon. Both are appealing.
The actions were triggered by a Nov. 26, 2018 visit to The Conservatory by university police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents, who interviewed people and, took photos of an Iboga plant and confiscated it. They also visited a student who allegedly took seedlings from the plant at the conservatory to grow at home.
The police report does not indicate that any plant roots were used to create the mind-altering drug.
University provost and executive vice president for academic affairs Phyllis Callahan wrote in a letter to Gladish that Cinnamon had “illegally imported (seeds) from Gabon, Africa, in 2004 and used them to grow an Iboga tree” at the conservatory.
“These actions are in violation of law (possession of Schedule I Narcotic) … and University policy, including but not limited to the Drug Free Workplace Policy and the Reporting and Addressing Illegal Activity and Misconduct policy,” Callahan wrote to Gladish.
Members of the community have expressed disappointment while praising the men. A colleague of theirs, Ernesto Sandoval, manager of the University of California, Davis, Botanical Conservatory, has criticized the university for the actions, telling this media outlet he considered the university’s steps “an incredible overreaction — it’s an overzealous, short-sighted decision by the university and administrators.”
Grubb defended himself in an April letter to Dean Cathy Bishop Clark.
“I maintain I have acted properly,” he wrote. “As you are aware, I was hired as conservatory manager some nine years after the Tabernanthe iboga tree was brought to the Conservatory.
“I was only told by my supervisor that the plant was used in traditional rites of passage ceremonies, that the plant was used as medicine, and had psychoactive products used for medicine.
“I did not introduce any of these plants into the collection and I have removed them all, once I was informed of their toxic effects. … When the DEA came to the Conservatory, I spoke truthfully and assisted in their investigation to the best of my ability. I cannot stress enough that no one involved was charged with a crime.”
The three and their legal representatives either could not be contacted or did not respond to requests for interviews.
According to a police report, officers were told a female student was growing a seedling and she and her friends “plan to consume under the supervision of her fiance once the plant has reached maturity.”
When agents visited, they were told a label was removed from the plant “because people were asking questions about it.”
The men are well-regarded among colleagues and in the community, and their job reviews through the years were positive.
“We had it before, but it’s a little bit difficult to grow,” Sandoval said about his facility’s relationship with the plant. “Dan was doing a great job growing it. But we’ve had other plants that are close to reactivity to that plant.”
“In my opinion, going through this whole process of beginning termination proceedings for two faculty and forcing the manager to resign has done way more damage to the students there at that school than perhaps having talked to the faculty persons and saying, ‘Hey, maybe we should take steps to limit the access to these plants,’” Sandoval said.
Some of the plants aren’t labeled at the UC Davis facility to make it more difficult for people with drug interests to know they’re there.
“Sometimes the plants are actually small enough that there isn’t really that much harvestable material there,” Sandoval said. “My suspicion is that was the case with the plant they had there, that it would have had minimal amounts for people to actually be able to harvest.”
The drug is created from the bark from the roots, “and if the plant’s in a pot, it’s got very limited room” for roots to grow, Sandoval said.
Biology professor Carolyn Keiffer was One faculty member who wrote on behalf of Grubb.
“As manager of the conservatory, Brian has worked tirelessly to develop written standards and policies for the facility which were mostly nonexistent upon his arrival,” she wrote.
Gladish also has many glowing letters in his personnel file. Among other things, he was chosen as the Hamilton campus’ Excellence in Scholarship Award winner in 2008.
She added that he has received “numerous commendations from students during their exit interviews at graduation who specifically mentioned his outstanding mentorship.”
And under his care, “the rain garden and the All American Display Garden have received national recognition,” she added.
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