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Australia: Country or Continent? Your Job May Depend on the Answer

A Southern New Hampshire University replaced a professor who was at first unaware that Australia is, in fact, a country as well as, depending who you ask, a continent. Challenge your assumptions and constantly update your wrong views, and, with appropriate humility, you will go far.

An online adjunct professor incorrectly told a student that Australia isn’t a country and gave her a failing grade, prompting Southern New Hampshire University to replace the instructor.
Buzzfeed News reports that the 27-year-old student in Idaho was assigned to compare American social norms to that of another country. She chose to study social media use in Australia, but the professor gave her a zero on that portion of the assignment, saying Australia is a continent, not a country.

Australia is actually both — a country and a continent.
University officials tell WMUR-TV the instructor has been replaced following an investigation. In a statement, the university said it deeply regrets the interaction between the professor and student, and wished athletes from Australia good luck in the Olympic games.

The Exchange About Australia

[UPDATE 2/9/2018 12:47pm PT: The professor has been fired.]
Ashley Arnold is pursuing an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University. For one of her classes (which cost $1000) she was assigned to write a paper comparing a social norm in the US and another country. Arnold chose Australia. She wrote the paper and turned it in. Her professor (who has a PhD in philosophy) gave her an F. Reason:
“Australia is a continent; not a country.”
Arnold emailed the professor, supplying references attesting to the fact that Australia is indeed a country. The professor sent her a scolding reply:
“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.”

Arnold followed up with another email, this time including a link to “About Australia” on the Australian government’s official 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”

The professor:
“Thank you for this web-address
After I do some independent research on the continent/country issue I will review your paper.
Without apology, the professor changed Arnold’s grade to a B+, but warned Arnold that when she turned her final assignment to “”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.”

The professor might not be sorry, but Southern New Hampshire University is:
“We deeply regret the interaction between our professor & our student. 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!”
SNHU (@SNHU) February 9, 201

[via Buzzfeed]

Does everyone agree that Australia is a continent?

A site called enchantedlearning, at least according to one of their tables, does not consider Australia to be a continent by itself.

Australia, the continent, is part of Oceania, which is not itself a continent.
The most commonly accepted definition is that Australia (the continent) is comprised of Australia (the country), plus New Zealand, New Guinea and Seram (an island in Indonesia).

Why is Australia so Old?

Oddly, the rocks on the surface of Australia are older that the rocks on the surface of all other continents (as far as we know).

Australia is known as the oldest continent.
This is partly because, although Australia was formed at the same time as other continents, the rocks that make up its landscape are far older than the rocks that make up
the landscape of other continents.
Via Countrydigest

Our planet’s oldest rock is from Australia:

… scientists just took one of geology’s biggest controversies and shrunk it down to atomic size. By zapping single atoms of lead in a tiny zircon crystal from Australia, researchers have confirmed the crystal is the oldest rock fragment ever found on Earth — 4.375 billion years old, plus or minus 6 million years.

My assumption is that Australia was not experiencing the same pressures as the other continents so the land did not get churned as much.

How is a Continent Defined?

Back to the original question, what is the accepted definition of a continent?

Continent. (kŏn’tə-nənt) One of the seven great landmasses of the Earth. The continents are Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

Wikipedia’s current view is that, depending upon convention, there are between four and seven continents, but Australia is always one of them.

Australia, sometimes known in technical contexts by the names Sahul, Australinea or Meganesia, to distinguish it from the Australian mainland, is a continent comprising mainland Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, New Britain, and small neighbouring islands (such as Misool and Waigeo, just to the northeast of Maluku Islands at the edge of its continental shelf). Situated in the geographical region of Oceania, it is the smallest of the seven traditional continents in the English conception. —

Animated, colour-coded map showing the various continents and regions. Depending on the convention and model, some continents may be consolidated or subdivided: for example, Eurasia is most often subdivided into Asia and Europe (red shades), while North and South America are sometimes recognised as one American continent (green shades).

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