A Southern New Hampshire University professor gave her student failing grades because according to her, Australia was not a country but a continent. In this photo, fireworks explode from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House during the midnight fireworks display on New Year's Eve in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 1, 2018. Getty Images/ Scott Barbour

When a 27-year-old student from Idaho submitted a research paper based on Australia, a Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) professor gave her failing grades because according to her, Australia was not a country but a continent.

Ashley Arnold, a stay-at-home mother pursuing an online degree in sociology, was told to draw a comparison between a social norm in the United States with that of another country as part of her final project for graduation.

For her assignment, Arnold went with social media use as the norm and Australia as the country to draw the comparison with. When she got the results of the assignment back on Feb. 1, she was shocked to discover that she had not managed to score a passing grade.

The reason — the professor who evaluated her paper believed Australia was not a country but a continent.

And due to her belief, the professor gave Arnold a zero in multiple sections of the assignment. “At first I thought it was a joke; This can’t be real,” Arnold told Buzzfeed. “Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real," she told BuzzFeed News.

The professor in question — whose name was kept under wraps on Arnold’s request because she did not want any backlash — was a PhD holder in Philosophy. “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?”

Outraged by her score, Arnold wrote an extensive email to the professor, pointing out the latter’s obvious mistake. “I believe that Australia is a country,” Arnold wrote in an attempt to convince the professor to re-examine her paper. “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.”

Even after receiving her student’s email, the professor remained firm on her knowledge of geography. “Research is like dominoes, if you accidentally knock over one piece the entire set will also fall,” lectured the professor in a reply to Arnold’s email. “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.”

Determined to make the professor change her mind, Arnold responded back including a link to the "About Australia" section of the Australian government's website. “Again I mean no disrespect but my grade is affected by your assumption that Australia is not a country when it in fact is,” Arnold pressed.

On receiving the link from an official website, the professor began realizing her mistake. “Thank you for this web-address,” she replied. “After I do some independent research on the continent/country issue I will review your paper.”

Acknowledging she had an initial “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent,” the professor got back to Arnold with a revised grade for her assignment — a B+.

However, before the professor changed her stance on Australia, Arnold had already reached to university authorities, filing a report against the professor. “I’m not going to fail because I chose a country that is a country,” she said.

A spokesperson for the university said: “At SNHU, we hold our professors to a high standard of excellence and strive to provide high-quality degree programs for all students. On this question, the student is right. We take this concern seriously and our academic team is working to resolve the matter.”

Arnold initially suspected the professor might not have been aware that Australia is a country because she is old. "When did Australia become a country? Maybe she thinks it’s still part of England," she said.

However, when she was reminded of the fact that Australia attained freedom more than a century ago, she realized that age could not be an explanation for the professor’s lack of geographical knowledge. “Oh, she’s not that old, so there’s no excuse,” Arnold said.