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 of cheating her way through 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. “Mizzou” is the school’s nickname.
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 was 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 3 1/2 years to write papers and complete other assignments for her.
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.
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 financial support.
“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 their memberships.
“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 been filled.