Fact Check

More stories from Anthony Pham

This past week Southern New Hampshire University has fired a professor for a lack of accuracy and fact checking due to self-advocacy by the impacted student.

A student, Ashley Arnold, was finishing up her online sociology degree through the popular online university when a negative interaction led her to reach out to media outlets. This was the last class that she was required to take to earn her sociology degree that she had been working towards.

One of the major assignments that she was working on was to compare two different countries on social norms. Her choice was to compare social media use in the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Australia.

However, after Arnold turned in her project, on February 1, she experienced two major disturbances. First was that she received a grade of zero for all of the effort that she put into her assignment. However, that wasn’t even the worst part.

The professor informed her that her work wouldn’t count because Australia is a continent, not a country.

As shocking as that sounds, the major issue noted is how does an individual who is supposed to be an educator, not understand that Australia is, in fact, a country in addition to being its own continent and island?

According to Arnold, “If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just Google that herself?”

Arnold carefully constructed a response with sourced links and evidence that proves that Australia is both a continent and a country. Even with this clear evidence, the professor in question refused to look over the evidence that was clearly in front of her in the email to recognize the error.

The professor in question responded to the email and stated “After I do some independent research on the continent country issue, I will review your paper. 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.” This negative commentary added to the stress that Arnold was already suffering due to the professor’s mistake.

Eventually, the professor admitted that even though she had a doctorate, she still made a mistake. She regraded Arnold’s research and eventually presented Arnold a B+ for her project.

However, due to a lack of decorum and negative unnecessary feedback from the professor, Arnold filed a report with the institution in order to protect other students and to make the institution aware of the issue. Due to the glaring nature of the incident, the institution has decided to terminate the professor’s contract with the school and apologized to Arnold, as well as refunding her the course fee.

The overall lesson, according to Arnold, is that due to her self-advocacy she was able to take control of the situation and made sure that the truth of her facts and research came to light, as well as making this a teachable moment to herself, the institution, and others.

As Arnold states, “As a student going back to school in my late twenties, I have sometimes felt inadequate. I have felt ashamed and embarrassed that I’m still in school and do not have a ‘real’ career yet. However, this class made me realize that I am equal and I can do hard things. I learned I can advocate for myself successfully even in the face of opposition brought on by a stubborn professor with a Ph.D.”

This teachable moment translates well into the real world as well as her on campus. If anything seems out of the ordinary as well as something you feel isn’t right. Do some research, advocate for yourself and what you believe and follow through. People can make mistakes and fact-checking can prevent issues such as this one from escalating and potentially harming your academic career.

Arnold states, “I hope this experience will give me the courage to continue to advocate for myself and others.” After hearing about Arnold’s experience, one user via Twitter mentioned a similar circumstance and mentioned that they didn’t follow through with getting their situation looked into as they didn’t put in the effort and self-advocacy that Arnold did.

This is a teachable moment in which students and professors can recognize that what you think you know, may not always be right.