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Sciences-Po Chief Descoings Found Dead in N.Y. Hotel

Richard Descoings
Richard Descoings, director of France’s Sciences-Po institute, was found dead in a hotel room in New York. He was 53. Photographer: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Richard Descoings, director of France’s Sciences Po institute, was found dead in a hotel room in New York. He was 53.

Descoings’s body was discovered in his room at Manhattan’s Michelangelo Hotel at about 12:55 p.m. yesterday, New York City Police Department spokesman Sergeant John Buthorn said today in a phone interview.

“Right now we don’t have evidence of a crime, but the matter’s still under investigation,” Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York police, said in a phone interview.

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. The results of an autopsy scheduled for this morning should be available later today, Grace Brugess, a spokeswoman for the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, said in a phone interview.

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.”

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

Descoings checked into the hotel on West 51st Street at Seventh Avenue 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.

UN Statement

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

Descoings was scheduled to meet a colleague in the lobby at about 7:30 a.m. yesterday, 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.

Phone Unanswered

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, said Browne, who declined to comment on what was found in the room other than Descoings’ personal belongings.

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

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

Science Po Website

Sciences Po had no statement on the death or details of plans for an interim or permanent replacement, a spokeswoman said. 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 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.

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