Descoings Autopsy Inconclusive, Medical Examiner Says

France’s Sciences Po Institute Director Descoings
Richard Descoings, late director of France’s Sciences Po institute. Photographer: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

More tests are needed to determine the cause of death for Richard Descoings, the French academic found dead in a New York hotel two days ago, after an autopsy was inconclusive, the medical examiner’s office said.

Descoings’s body was discovered in his room at Manhattan’s Michelangelo Hotel on West 51st Street at Seventh Avenue at about 12:55 p.m. April 3, the New York City Police Department said in a statement. There was no immediate evidence of a crime and the matter is still under investigation, said Paul Browne, a spokesman for the department.

Tissue and toxicology tests are needed to determine the cause of death for the 53-year-old director of France’s Sciences Po institute, and those tests could take about two weeks, the New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said yesterday.

“Detectives are waiting for the same results,” Browne said in an e-mail. “There’s nothing at this juncture to establish foul play.”

Descoings checked into the hotel by himself on April 1, Browne said. He was one of two dozen fellow university presidents who were scheduled to participate in the Global Colloquium of University Presidents at Columbia University, an annual gathering convened by the presidents of Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, New York University and Princeton University, and the United Nations.

Hotel Lobby

Descoings was scheduled to meet a colleague in the lobby at about 7:30 a.m. April 3, Browne said. When he didn’t arrive, his colleague assumed he had departed for the conference already and left the hotel, Browne said.

A hotel worker went into the seventh-floor room to refill the minibar at about 9:30 a.m., saw Descoings sleeping and left, Browne said. Descoings was still asleep when a security guard checked on him just before 11 a.m. after conference attendees called the hotel, Browne said.

The hotel again sent a guard to check on Descoings at about 12:45 p.m. after his phone went unanswered, and the guard found him unresponsive, lying on his bed, naked, Browne said. The hotel called 911, and emergency medical technicians pronounced Descoings dead at the scene after they were unable to revive him, Browne said.

There was no visible trauma to his body, and robbery was ruled out, said Browne. Descoings’s laptop and mobile phone were found on a third-floor ledge outside the hotel and may have been thrown out of the window, Browne said.

Drugs, Alcohol

Prescription drugs and alcohol were found in the room, ABC News reported, without citing anyone. Browne didn’t respond to a request for comment on the report.

A phone message left at the Michelangelo seeking comment on Descoings’s death wasn’t returned. The hotel is part of the Florence, Italy-based Starhotels chain run by the Fabri family, according to its website.

In his 16 years running Sciences Po, Descoings transformed the Paris-based university, whose alumni include former President Jacques Chirac and former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He added programs in economics and journalism, introduced courses taught in English and reserved places for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Descoings was “a great public servant who dedicated his entire life to the cause he’d chosen: education,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement. “He was a pioneer in opening up internationally and in seeking new financing, a tireless and passionate worker.”

Six Campuses

The school, formally called the Institute for Political Studies, also opened six campuses outside of Paris and raised tuition under Descoings. At Sarkozy’s request, he produced a report on the secondary education system in 2009.

“His accomplishments at Sciences Po were renowned,” said Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande. “Descoings still had much to contribute to the educational system.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said in a joint statement that they were “deeply saddened” by Descoings’s death.

“He was a global leader on education policy, recognized and honored both in France and around the world for his contributions to research and policy,” Ban and Bollinger said in the statement.

‘Deeply Affected’ Campus

Sciences Po said in a statement that Descoings’s death has “deeply affected the vast community of Sciences Po: students, alumni, teachers, employees and international partners.” His death is “unfair because it comes at a time when he had some much more to give. It is unfair because it comes before he got any of the credit he deserved.”

Students at the school created a shrine on campus with candles and thousands of notes.

The board of Sciences Po will look for his successor, according to the statement.

The institute’s website has a photo of Descoings smiling from a row of desks with a banner saying “Merci a Richard Descoings: 1958-2012.”

The spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office wasn’t immediately available for comment yesterday on the New York investigation. France’s Foreign Ministry remains in touch with New York police through its consulate there and had no further comment, a spokesman in Paris said.

Descoings was born in Paris and graduated from France’s prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration in 1985. He worked at the culture ministry and other governmental posts before taking charge of budget issues at the education ministry under Socialist Minister Jack Lang in 1992.

Descoings married Nadia Marik, a judge and fellow administrator at Sciences Po, in 2004.

(Corrects Descoings’s name in 18th paragraph.)
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