Prominent French Scholar Richard Descoings Found Dead in NYC Hotel

Richard Descoings was director of the elite French school Sciences Po.

ByABC News
April 4, 2012, 10:11 AM

April 4, 2012 — -- New York police are trying to determine whether the mysterious death of France's most prominent college head was the result of a crime.

Richard Descoings, 53, was found naked and dead in his Manhattan hotel room on Tuesday.

The esteemed French scholar was the director of the renowned Paris Institute of Political Studies, widely known as "Sciences Po." The school is known as a training ground for France's elite. Former French President Jacques Chirac was a student at the school and Dominique Strauss Kahn taught economics at the school before joining the IMF.

He was found naked and dead in his hotel room around 4 p.m. Alcohol and prescription drugs were found in the hotel room, but it is unknown at this time if they played a role in his death.

Police said there was no obvious trauma to the body, but New York City Police Department's Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said that foul play had not been ruled out.

Authorities are waiting for the completion of an autopsy for a cause a death.

A laptop and cell phone believed to belong to Descoings were found on a third floor ledge, Browne said, according to the Associated Press. He said it is unclear how the items got to the ledge, but that they could have been thrown out the window.

Descoings was in New York for a U.N. conference for university presidents at Columbia University. He was staying at the Michelangelo Hotel with colleagues.

Descoings was scheduled to meet his colleagues in the lobby of the hotel at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. When he wasn't there, they asked the hotel to check on him and left for the conference, thinking that maybe he had already gone ahead.

Hotel staff checked on him at around 1 p.m. and said he appeared to be sleeping.

When Descoings' colleagues realized he was not at the conference, they called the hotel and asked that he be checked on again.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Descoings in a statement.

"Richard Descoings contributed more than anyone of his generation to furthering the prestige of France's higher education system," Sarkozy said.

Hundreds of students gathered at the university today for a memorial service. Candles, flowers and letters began to accumulate on the grounds.

"Richard Descoings transformed a university institution into a vibrant international community," Sciences Po assistant director Herve Cres said at the memorial. "Richard passionately loved this institution."

Cres spoke to the crowd about Descoings' love of the students and asked for a moment of silence.

"Classes finished early this morning for the service, but the courtyard where it was taking place was so packed we had to watch from inside the building" international student Darko Manakovski told the Associated Press. "Everyone was shocked, really upset."

A banner at the top of the Sciences Po's website says simply, "Thank you to Richard Descoings." It links to a tribute page on Facebook with nearly 1,000 supporters already.

The page has photos from the memorial and an anonymously written poem about the late director. It begins, "You rest in peace, Mr. Director. All of your students carry you in their hearts. You were, for them, a cue for a big smile."