JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The University of Missouri is
removing the name of a 22-year-old Wal-Mart heiress from its
brand-new sports arena, a week after she was accused by a classmate
of cheating her way through another college.
Elizabeth Paige Laurie's parents have agreed to allow the school
to rename the $75 million Paige Sports Arena, which was built with
a donation from the Lauries and opened three weeks ago, the
university said Tuesday.
The university board will vote Friday on the proposed new name,
Mizzou Arena, said Remy Wagner, the assistant to the board's
secretary. However, another suggestion already is on the minds of many Tigers fans -- naming it for the school's longtime basketball coach, Norm Stewart.
Stewart told The Columbia Daily Tribune that no one at the university has discussed renaming the facility with him.
"To be honest with you, I haven't given it any thought," Stewart told the newspaper.
The move comes months after billionaires Bill and Nancy Laurie
angered Mizzou fans, students and alumni by announcing their plan
to name the arena after their daughter, who did not attend
Missouri. The couple were given the naming rights after donating
$25 million toward the building campaign.
One alumnus, Chris Cary, called it "Dad buying the biggest
dollhouse." Nancy Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton,
co-founder of Wal-Mart.
Then, last week, Paige Laurie's freshman roommate at the
University of Southern California, Elena Martinez, said in an
interview on ABC's "20/20" that Laurie paid her about $20,000
over 3½ years to write papers and complete other assignments for
The University of Southern California is investigating the
allegations. Michael Jackson, vice president of student affairs,
said Monday the matter is ``disappointing and strikes at the heart
Laurie's family did not return messages Wednesday left at their
Columbia home and at the offices of their company, Paige Sports
Entertainment, which owns the NHL's St. Louis Blues. The family
said in a statement to "20/20'' that Paige Laurie's college record
"is a private matter.''
Paige Laurie has denied repeated requests for interviews since
the announcement in March that the arena was being named for her.
The Lauries' connections to the school run deep. One of Paige
Laurie's cousins, Spencer Laurie, plays for the men's basketball
team, and another cousin is a former player. The family also has
endowed the E. Paige Laurie Professorship for the Equine Center at
the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and provided funding to build
the Columbia Performing Arts Center.
In a statement Tuesday, Elson Floyd, president of the University
of Missouri system, and Brady Deaton, chancellor at the Columbia
campus, said the school was grateful to the Laurie family for their
"Their generosity is helping us build a nationally renowned
research university and a sports complex that will serve our
student-athletes at the highest level,'' Deaton said.
The university declined to say why the Lauries' relinquished
their naming rights, and officials did not say if the school would
have to return any of the gift.
Most Missouri fans welcomed the decision to take Paige Laurie's
name off the arena.
"If your daughter wrecks the car, you take the car away from
her,'' said Paul Welsh, a 1968 graduate.
Scott Kampmeyer, a 1995 graduate and president of the Los
Angeles-Orange County alumni chapter, said some alumni contacted
him after the cheating allegations surfaced and threatened to drop
"They could've found someone who's done more for the university
and athletic department than some girl who never even went to
Mizzou," he said. "It gives you an image of a spoiled little rich
girl whose daddy bought her a basketball arena.''
In a similar controversy, university officials have also
indicated they will remove Enron founder Ken Lay's name from an
economics professorship if he is convicted in the scandal that
brought down the energy giant.
Officials said that would probably require the school to return
Lay's $1.1 million donation. The Lay chair in economics has never
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.