Updated, 4/5, 3:43 a.m.
Sciences Po Director Richard Descoings was found dead in his Midtown hotel room on Tuesday afternoon.
Descoings was scheduled to speak at the Global Colloquium of University Presidents at Columbia on Tuesday, but did not arrive when the conference was scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning.
Sciences Po—a Parisian university officially known as Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris—is one of Europe’s most prestigious educational institutions. It has a double-degree program with the School of General Studies, along with several other joint programs with Columbia.
A call was made to the Manhattan North Precinct about an unconscious white male from Paris, aged 54, at the Michelangelo Hotel in midtown at 12:55 p.m. on Tuesday, a police spokesperson said. Descoings was discovered dead on arrival in room 723.
He had been the director of Sciences Po since 1996. He graduated from Sciences Po in 1980 and studied at the Ecole Nationale de l’Administration from 1983 to 1985.
According to Reuters, Descoings’ colleagues phoned the hotel, and staff members thought they heard snoring when they went to his room. Hotel staff went to his room again when he still did not show up at the conference, at which point they found his naked body and a messy room.
Police are treating the circumstances of the death as suspicious. There was evidence indicating that alcohol had been consumed and that Descoings may not have been the only person in the room.
Descoings had attended a reception on Monday evening following United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s address, which opened the colloquium.
On Wednesday, the medical examiner found the autospy inconclusive, according to several media outlets, which reported that his cell phone and laptop were found on a landing four floors below his room as if they had been thrown out a window.
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden death of our colleague Richard Descoings, the Director of Sciences Po, one of the world’s top universities,” Ban and University President Lee Bollinger said in a joint statement yesterday. “He was a global leader on education policy, recognized and honoured both in France and around the world for his contributions to research and policy.”
In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Descoings, describing his career as “the exceptional career of a great servant of the state, who devoted his whole life to his chosen cause of education without distraction.”
By late Wednesday night, Sciences Po had not released a statement on Descoings’ death, although its website shows a photo of Descoings smiling in front of a row of desks and a banner saying, “Thank you, Richard Descoings: 1958-2012.”
Francis Vérillaud, vice president and director of international affairs for Sciences Po, came to Columbia to sign an agreement with Provost John Coatsworth concerning exchange students at Columbia and Sciences Po, according to Christophe Lagier, director of the Columbia-Penn Program at Reid Hall in Paris. Upon news of Descoings’ death, Vérillaud returned to Paris.
During Descoing’s tenure at Sciences Po, he doubled the number of students and brought in students from underrepresented communities in France, according to Lagier.
“It was always the same type of people coming from the same background attending Sciences Po or being able to succeed in entering at Sciences Po … you have to be selected and it’s very hard,” Lagier said. “He really assisted on that part of making it accessible to people that it wouldn’t be accessible to.”
Lagier said that he was also seen as a controversial figure in France, partly because of his role in the school’s shift from a specialized to a more regular university, and because he pursued students from underrepresented groups.
“Some people didn’t see that with a good eye,” Lagier said. “It’s such an elitist institution … opening it up for other realms of the population was not necessarily taken as a positive thing for those criticizers.”