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Neri Oxman, billionaire investor Bill Ackman’s spouse, accused of content theft in MIT dissertation

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman has been an outspoken opponent of Harvard’s recently resigned president, Claudine Gay, over accusations of content theft and her handling of antisemitism on campus. Now his spouse, Neri Oxman, has been alleged to have committed similar content theft in her own MIT dissertation.

A Business Insider article published Thursday alleged Oxman plagiarized portions of her 2010 doctoral dissertation at MIT and cited several passages that the report found lacking appropriate recognition. NBC News hasn’t independently reviewed the academic sources cited in the report.

Oxman, an American Israeli designer, held a tenured professorship at MIT before departing the institution and relocating to New York.

The article highlighted issues similar to those found in Gay’s academic work, primarily involving technical passages that lacked quotation marks for proper citations.

While Ackman did not withdraw his scrutiny of Gay — going to the extent of stating she should not remain as a faculty member due to her “serious content theft issues” — he defended his spouse, stating on X in a post, “part of what makes her human is that she makes errors.”

Neri Oxman and Bill Ackman attend an event at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in November.Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Oxman content theft claims

The Business Insider report claimed Oxman “plagiarized multiple paragraphs of her 2010 doctoral dissertation” and found “at least one passage directly lifted from other writers without citation.” The article presented examples of her dissertation side by side with passages from authors she allegedly failed to recognize accurately.

Oxman apologized for several issues found in the report on X Thursday. She stressed, “I have always recognized the profound importance of the contributions of my peers and those who came before me.”

The report noted “four paragraphs in my 330-page PhD dissertation: ‘Material-based Design Computation’” where “I omitted quotation marks for certain work that I used,” she wrote.

“For each of the four paragraphs in question, I properly credited the original source’s author(s) with references at the end of each of the subject paragraphs, and in the detailed bibliography end pages of the dissertation,” she explained. “In these four paragraphs, however, I did not place the subject language in quotation marks, which would be the proper approach for crediting the work. I regret and apologize for these errors.”

The examples posted by Business Insider showed Oxman’s explanation as true in three examples of the alleged content theft. However, it also showed an example in which she appeared to paraphrase an author without a parenthetical citation or quotes and another passage in which she allegedly inaccurately attributed a passage from the Royal Society of London paper to two different sources.

Oxman explained that she wasn’t able to thoroughly check the claims of the report because not all of her sources are readily available online.

“Unfortunately, because some of the original sources are not online, and Business Insider was unwilling to give me beyond 4pm to review these citations, I cannot confirm whether Business Insider or the sources I referenced for this paragraph are correct,” she wrote in reference to one issue the report pointed out.

“When I obtain access to the original sources, I will check all of the above citations and request that MIT make any necessary corrections,” she added.

Oxman said she spent 15 years at MIT, where she enrolled in the Ph.D. program in 2005, obtained her doctorate in 2010, and joined the faculty that same year. She left the institution in 2020 after getting married and moving to New York City.

Representatives for Ackman and Oxman told NBC News there would be no further comment than the couples’ X statements.

Ackman’s scrutiny of Harvard and Gay

Ackman was very vocal in his criticism of Gay.

The prominent hedge fund manager spoke out online against Harvard over the Ivy League institution’s response to campus protests of the Israel-Hamas war, and of Gay’s congressional testimony regarding the handling of antisemitism on campus.

That pressure against Gay culminated when content theft allegations surfaced regarding her academic works.

Harvard University President Dr. Claudine Gay testifies during a House hearing on campus antisemitism on Dec. 5, 2023.
Then-Harvard President Claudine Gay testifies at a House hearing on campus antisemitism on Dec. 5.Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP file

The Harvard Corporation ordered an investigation that “revealed a few instances of inadequate citation,” but found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.

The investigation led her to submit four corrections to articles she published, which were part of the review, as well as corrections to her PhD dissertation from 1997, The Harvard Crimson reported.

Gay ultimately stepped down on Tuesday, and Ackman did not relent in his criticism.

On X, he criticized the board for supporting Gay, calling it a “grave and continuing reputational disaster to Harvard and to the Board,” called for board members who supported Gay to resign and did not agree with Harvard’s decision to keep Gay as faculty.

“There would be nothing wrong with her staying on the faculty if she didn’t have serious content theft issues. Students are forced to withdraw for much less. Rewarding her with a highly paid faculty position sets a very bad precedent for academic integrity at Harvard,” he said in a separate tweet.

Ackman supported Oxman on Thursday after she was accused of similar content theft.

“You know that you struck a chord when they go after your life partner, in this case my love and partner in life,” he wrote on X. “Please see her post below about today’s Business Insider piece about her dissertation. Part of what makes her human is that she makes mistakes, acknowledges them, and apologizes when appropriate.”

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