Adjunct Prof: "Australia Is a Continent; It Is Not a Country"

Instructor gives F to student for calling Australia a country; university fires instructor.


Buzzfeed (David Mack) has the story, quoting the original e-mail from the instructor; students were asked to write a report comparing a social norm in the U.S. with that in another country, the student chose Australia, and the instructor responded:

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.

The New Hampshire Union-Leader (Shawne K. Wickham) has more; Southern New Hampshire University has the apology Tweet:

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  1. What a wonderful story.

  2. Regardless of whether it’s a country or a continent, the big question is: Will it tip over and capsize if you put too many troops on it?

    1. It’s big enough that not even China could muster enough troops to capsize it.

  3. From the NHUL story:

    [quote](SNHU assistant vice president of communications) Keane said SNHU is not identifying the professor involved, “at the student’s request.” She said the teacher “does not live in New Hampshire and does not work on campus.”[/quote]

    This is extremely unfortunate, since we now cannot shun this professor, and her fellow graduates of whatever enlightened, progressive, liberal, woke institution of higher learning where she got her degree.

    1. Yeah, she got it wrong about Australia being only a continent.

      Much better than what they teach at conservative colleges though; that the Earth is only six thousand years old.

      1. Who knew someone here is so ignorant that they can out AK Mr. Kirkland himself. Congrats!

  4. I’ve now read about this in multiple places and I’m not really sure why it has turned into such a big story. Someone made a mistake and ended up looking dumb. I hope the next time I do something dumb it doesn’t end up all over the national media. The professor’s more serious mistake was refusing to acknowledge her error and show some contrition.

    1. It probably would have been less of a story if the instructor hadn’t been so obnoxious about the correction when the student referred him to Wikipedia.

      1. I agree with RP and also with Brett
        It’s not a big story. No one should be embarrassed (other than the professor, natch), and it looks like the student handled thing properly and the school also handled things properly–and even with a touch of cheeky humor…rare to find a sense of humor in institutions of higher learning.

        For those of us who teach (or used to), the story *is* a great reminder that we all make mistakes, and it’s what we do when we find out we’re wrong that is telling.

        1. I think I’d be pretty embarrassed if I had hired this professor.

          1. Yup. Looks like the school was a bit embarrassed and acted accordingly. Problem solved.

    2. It’s not a big story, so much as it’s a funny story (in a mildly funny can-you-believe-it stories-of-human-folly way). And the instructor’s refusing to acknowledge the error — which the BuzzFeed item I linked to details — does make it funnier still.

      I tend to agree that publicly shaming the instructor by name would have been going a bit far; looks like she’s been punished enough.

      1. She’s going to have a hard enough time getting new work when potential employers ask why she left her last job. She’s not likely to make that particular mistake twice, and maybe she’s learned some humility.

        1. Probably not an issue as an “online adjunct.” They are expected to bounce between schools and courses. It would be like asking a lawyer why he left his last client.

  5. OK, since this is a legal blog, can the instructor claim that his/her “free speech rights” or “academic freedom” were violated? At what point do “crazy” or “wrong” ideas/beliefs gain protection?

    I am going to make the assumption that SNHU is a public university. If not, assume it is.

    1. FYI, it’s actually private.

  6. Reason had a more detailed version of this article a couple days ago. What this version is missing is that not only was the professor so ignorant – when challenged by the student, the professor doubled down. Only after the student filed a complaint with the university did the professor admit the mistake.

    But even then, the professor went on to tell the student “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.” As the author of the Reason article said, “This remark does not inspire great confidence that she understands her mistake.”

  7. What both the professor and the student (and the commentators supporting the student) missed is that the country of Australia is NOT A CONTINENT. The country of Australia consists of two islands, one of which is very large (mainland Australia), the other of which is comparatively small (Tasmania). Although part of Australia, Tasmania is geographically non-contiguous with the rest of Australia.

    1. The Bass Strait is only 60m deep and is a submerged portion of continental crust, thus geologically Tasmania is part of the same Continental block. This would be like saying that Britain is not part of the European continent.

      You actually had a possible leg to stand on here of the sort beloved by informed pedants, of which you are clearly not, in that the Australian Continent also geologically includes New Guinea and some other shallow seas such as Carpenteria which emerge during glaciations to create a larger continous land mass. The sea between New Guinea and North Australia is an extreme form of back arc basin created by the subduction of the Pacific plate under the Australian plate.

      Because this is potentially confusing thus the entire Australian continent as defined geologically is beginning to be called Sahul. This is becoming widespread, after all most geologists refer to the North American equivalent as Laurentia.

  8. Although part of Australia, Tasmania is geographically non-contiguous with the rest of Australia.

    It is still part of the continent as well are Papua New Guinea and parts of Indonesia.

    1. And let’s not forget the Principality of Hutt River.

  9. I have a humanities degree, and this type of thing seems rather familiar. For example, on more than one occasion I remember being required to justify the fact that the free market allowed gas companies to purchase and bury the rights to carburetors that allowed cars to get 60 mpg.

    1. For example, on more than one occasion I remember being required to justify the fact that the free market allowed gas companies to purchase and bury the rights to carburetors that allowed cars to get 60 mpg.

      This old wives tale has been floating around since at least the early 70’s of different flavors. The one I remember was 100 m/g and the car companies bought up the rights. All rather silly.

  10. Sigh. Of course it was a sociology instructor. Of course! I won’t say any more. I’ll just slink away to grieve for my so-called profession.

    1. Well, what were the possibilities for this subject? When you know the student chose Australia you can guess it’s not an ethnic studies class, so what’s left aside from sociology and cultural anthropology? and I’m just realizing while typing this that I can’t define the difference between the two

      1. Answer: Cultural anthropologists can get jobs after graduation. Sociologists cannot. 🙂

        My sister got her doctorate in Urban Planning and had tons of job offers. It was a running joke in her department that people getting doctorates in a related field of Sociology hated them, as there was a 95% overlap in knowledge & training between the two disciplines, but one had a marketable degree and the other . . . well, didn’t.

  11. Darn. If I’d have known Australia was an ungoverned continent when I was there a couple of years ago, I’d have claimed it for us libertarians.

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