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Mystery surrounds death of prominent French scholar in N.Y. hotel

April 04, 2012|By Tina Susman
(BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty…)

New York — Police are investigating the death in a Manhattan hotel of prominent French academic Richard Descoings, who was heralded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and others as a trailblazer in efforts to open his country's elite schools to the working-class and underprivileged and to foreign students.

Descoings was found dead in his room at the Michelangelo Hotel on Tuesday after he failed to show up for a meeting. Police and emergency medical technicians responding to a 911 call pronounced the 54-year-old dead at the scene. The Daily News and other local media said he was found nude, on his bed.

The cause of death has not been determined, but Descoings' cellphone and laptop were found on a third-floor landing, as if they had been tossed from his seventh-floor room's window, police  spokesman Paul Browne said. Browne said foul play had not been ruled out, but he also told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that there was "no determination at this point that he was the victim of a crime." 

Descoings, who lived in Paris, was in town for an academic conference. He was the director of the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies, also known as Sciences Po; the institute's website on Wednesday paid tribute to Descoings by posting his photograph beneath the words: "Thank you, Richard Descoings."

Descoings was credited with widening the school's diversity, a goal he described in a statement on the institution's website. "We must transcend the – purely French – separation between elite colleges (grandes écoles) and universities and develop an alternative model," that would ensure "equality of opportunity in our student intake," he wrote.

Descoings had been Sciences Po director for 16 years. Sarkozy said his leadership marked "a historic turning point" for the school, which had been a symbol of the country's elitist educational system, the Associated Press reported. Descoings' opening of the school to foreign students elevated its reputation, making it "world renowned," Sarkozy said.

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tina.susman@latimes.com


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