While MU’s men’s basketball team came apart Friday night against Davidson in the new Paige Sports Center, a story about the arena’s namesake unraveled on primetime television.
ABC’s “20/20” news program aired a report called “Big Cheats on Campus,” which featured a claim that Paige Laurie, for whom the arena is named, paid a college roommate about $20,000 over three-and-a-half years to complete Laurie’s class assignments.
Laurie, daughter of Wal-Mart heirs Bill and Nancy Laurie of Columbia, cut the ribbon at the arena’s opening in October. Her family contributed $25 million to the $75 million building.
As of Saturday, MU had not taken an official position on the allegations, and several officials refused to comment. MU alumni and sports fans, some of whom opposed the naming in the first place, had mixed opinions.
Doug Galloway of Jefferson City was in town for the Missouri football game against Kansas and said people pay attention to the Lauries because of their wealth.
“We have to remember that she’s just been accused,” Galloway said. “There’s no different expectations for Paige than with other kids.”
Ken Woodward, who came from Kansas City for Saturday’s game, said the university should change the name of the arena.
“I think it’s unfortunate that some people think it’s OK to buy a degree or grade,” Woodward said. “The University is bruised and takes the hit for that sort of thing.”
Laurie graduated from the University of Southern California in May 2004 with a degree in communications. She is a graduate of Rock Bridge High School.
Her former roommate at USC, Elena Martinez, told ABC she began writing papers for Laurie in her freshmen year, and that she has written dozens of papers since.
A spokesperson for the Lauries released a statement saying, “Paige Laurie’s college record is a private matter, and we will have no other comment.”
Chad Moller, the media relations director for MU Athletics, said Saturday that the department and its director Mike Alden would not comment on the report.
MU graduate J.B. Connoley opposed the name of the arena when it was first announced. His opposition only intensified when he learned about the recent accusations.
“When they first announced the name in March, I thought it was an embarrassment to the university — naming it after 22-year-old debutante at Southern Cal. After last night’s story, it now seems the new basketball arena is a shrine to academic fraud,” he said.
The largest chunk of the arena’s funding, $35 million, came in the form of state revenue bonds.
Ed Robb, newly-elected Republican Missouri state representative to the 24th District, doesn’t consider this a major story.
“I’ve heard about the allegations,” he said, “but what does that have to do with giving money to the university and naming it after whoever they wanted to?”
Chuck Graham, Democratic state senator-elect, said he was unaware of the allegations and declined to comment.
Jim Devine, MU academic integrity faculty fellow, declined to comment and added that MU should speak with one voice.
MU Faculty Council member Edward Adelstein said he doesn’t think the university will take any actions.
“Ever since I went to school, many students have been writing papers for other people,” he said. “She shouldn’t be singled out.”
Michael Prewitt, interim vice provost for undergraduate studies and former academic integrity fellow, said MU would generally not start investigating plagiarism allegations based on information provided by students alone.
Prewitt said he could not tell how the university would have dealt with the situation had the allegation involved students at MU. If students have already earned their degrees and left the university, there is little administrators can do, he said.
As part of a recent push to create a climate of academic honesty, MU launched a Web site last week at academicintegrity.missouri.edu.
Representatives from USC said the school does not yet have a formal response to the allegations but confirmed that Laurie graduated in May.
Barb Hoberock, an MU graduate who attended the Saturday game, said that although she doesn’t think the arena should have been named after Paige, the university should not try to change the name.
“Any name changing needs to be done by the Laurie family,” Hoberock said. “The university shouldn’t renege on their agreement.”
The Associated Press and Missourian reporters Cathy Chou and Kyle Rogers contributed to this story.