This is Ashley Arnold, a 27-year-old resident of Idaho Falls, Idaho. She's a stay-at-home mom completing an online sociology degree with Southern New Hampshire University.
As part of her final class, for which she paid almost $1,000, students were required to complete a project outline last month in which they would compare a social norm in the US and another country.
For her "norm" Arnold picked social media use, and for her country she chose Australia.
But when Arnold got her grade back on Feb. 1, she was shocked to see her professor had failed her. Why? Because, according to the teacher, "Australia is a continent; not a country."
“At first I thought it was a joke; This can’t be real. Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real," she told BuzzFeed News.
The professor, who has a PhD in philosophy, according to her LinkedIn, had given Arnold zero points in multiple sections of the assignment because she believed that Australia wasn't a real country.
“With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country?" asked Arnold. "If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just google that herself?”
So, Arnold wrote a lengthy email to the professor, trying to convince her Australia, the country, does indeed exist. She even provided references:
I believe I got zero or partial credit because the instructor said, 'Australia is a continent; not a country. However, I believe that Australia is a country. The research starter on the SNHU’s Shapiro library written by John Pearson (2013) states, that Australia is the 'sixth-largest country in the world' (n.p.). The full name of the country is the Commonwealth of Australia, meaning Australia is both a continent and a country. Therefore, these sections of the rubric should be amended.
But the professor still wasn't convinced. In her lecturing reply, which Arnold provided to BuzzFeed News, the professor doubled down on her Australia-denialism:
I will gladly re-examine your week 2 milestone project report.
But before I do I want you to understand that any error in a project can invalidate the entire research project.
Research is like dominoes, if you accidentally knock over one piece the entire set will also fall.
Australia is a continent; it is not a country. That error made it nearly impossible for you to accurately complete your week 2 research outline correctly.
As I mentioned above I will look over your week two paper once again and see if you earned more credits than I gave you.
So, Arnold responded again, even including a link to the "About Australia" section of the Australian government's website:
Australia is both a country and a continent. It’s the only country that is both. I provided a resource in the first email that clarifies that for you. If you need further clarification google or the SNHU Shapiro Library has that information you.
Again I mean no disrespect but my grade is affected by your assumption that Australia is not a country when it in fact is.
Thank you and let me know if I need to provide further resources proving Australia is a country.
Finally, the professor responded:
Thank you for this web-address
After I do some independent research on the continent/country issue I will review your paper.
Let's stop for a second and just state for the record that Australia is a country. Here's the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
Here are some members of the Australian women's soccer team, the Matildas.
And here's Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, speaking at the United Nations, a pretty exclusive international club that you have to be a 100% real country to join.
Anyway, Arnold said she was determined to have the professor realize her mistake, so she filed a report with the university. "I’m not going to fail because I chose a country that is a country," she said.
Finally, after the professor had finished conducting her "independent research," Arnold received a new grade this week: a B+.
The professor never apologized for the error, but did acknowledge she had a "misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent."
Still, the professor had another warning for Arnold as she prepares to write her final assignment: "Please make sure the date, the facts, and the information you provide in your report is about Australia the country and not Australia the continent."
Contacted by BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Southern New Hampshire University said they were looking into the matter.
When asked why she thought her professor might have been confused, Arnold said her older age might have been a factor.
"When did Australia become a country? Maybe she thinks it’s still part of England," she said.
After being told by BuzzFeed News that happened some 117 years ago, Arnold said, “Oh, she’s not that old, so there’s no excuse.”
Disclaimer: The author of this post is from the very real country that is Australia.
On Friday, SNHU announced via Twitter that they had apologized to Arnold and had replaced her professor. Arnold was also set to receive a refund for the course.
"We deeply regret the interaction between our professor & our student," SNHU said. "We have apologized to Ashley, replaced the instructor, & are reimbursing her tuition for the course. To our friends in Australia, we know that you are a country & a continent, best of luck in the Olympic games!"
Arnold told BuzzFeed News the SNHU staff were "very nice and apologized for the Australia issue."
"So I am happy with the results," she said.
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.