A floating sculpture named 'Alpha Turtle' is pictured in front of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, August 15, 2014.
A floating sculpture named 'Alpha Turtle' is pictured in front of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, August 15, 2014. Reuters/Jason Reed

The professor in the US who initially failed her student for daring to say Australia is a country has been sacked. Southern New Hampshire University has said it has investigated the incident and has since replaced the professor in question.

As part of the completion requirement for her online sociology class, 27-year-old stay-at-home mum Ashley Arnold had to create a project outline comparing a social norm in the US and another country. She chose Australia as the other country and social media use for the norm.

But when she got her grade back on Feb. 1, she was shocked to learn that she had failed her paper because her professor, who was a contracted employee and not on the permanent faculty, told her, “Australia is a continent; it is not a country.” The unnamed professor, who has a PhD in philosophy, gave her zero points in multiple sections of the assignment because Arnold got the crucial part of identifying Australia apparently wrong.

“At first I thought it was a joke. This can’t be real. Then as I continued to read, I realised she was for real,” Arnold told BuzzFeed News. She specifically asked the online publication not to name the professor to avoid backlash. “With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country? If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just google that herself?”

Unwilling to fail the subject just because she correctly called Australia as a country, Arnold wrote a lengthy email to the professor to convince her of the fact. She provided references, saying Australia is both a continent and a country.”

Although the professor was unconvinced, she told Arnold that she would re-examine her project, condescendingly adding that if she found any error, she would invalidate the entire research project. “Research is like dominoes, if you accidentally knock over one piece the entire set will also fall,” the lecturer wrote to the student. “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.”

Arnold responded again, including a link to the Australian government’s “About Australia” webpage section. She told the professor that she meant no disrespect but the professor’s incorrect assumption about Australia affected her grade. The teacher also responded to say she would do an “independent research” on the matter.

After apparently doing the research, the professor then gave Arnold a new grade of B+. She never apologised but instead conceded that there had been a “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent.” But the lecturer still provided a warning for her.

“Please make sure that date, the facts, and the information you provide in your report is about Australia as a country and not Australia the continent,” the professor told her.

SNHU has since apologised to Arnold. It posted on Twitter that it would reimburse the student’s tuition for the course. It also confirmed that it has fired the professor.

“To our friends in Australia, we know that you are a country & a continent, best of luck in the Olympic games!” reads the university’s official Twitter account post.