French Scholar Richard Descoings Died of Natural Causes

Sciences Po Headmaster Richard Descoings
Sciences Po headmaster Richard Descoings. Photographer: Miguel medina/AFP/Getty Images

Richard Descoings, the director of the Sciences Po institute in Paris who was found dead in a New York hotel room last month, died of natural causes, authorities said following an initial autopsy that was inconclusive.

Descoings, 53, suffered a fatal heart attack, Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, said today in a telephone interview. His death was “100 percent due to disease,” with hypertension listed as the official cause, she said.

“There were no outside influences,” Borakove said. An initial autopsy performed the day after his body was found was inconclusive and further tissue and toxicology tests were needed to determine the cause of death, the medical examiner’s office said April 5.

In his 16 years running Sciences Po, Descoings transformed the university, whose alumni include former French President Jacques Chirac and former UN 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’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 after his death. There was no immediate evidence of a crime, said Paul Browne, a spokesman for the department.

Missed Meeting

Descoings checked into the hotel by himself on April 1, Browne said. He was one of about two dozen 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.

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.

Prescription Drugs

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.

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 medical examiner’s report.

Sciences Po, formally called the Institute for Political Studies, 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.

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.

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