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French educator found dead in New York was dynamic, controversial figure

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Wed April 4, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Sarkozy pays homage to "an exceptional career"
  • There are no signs of foul play, police await an autopsy
  • Descoings was in New York to attend an event hosted by Columbia University
  • He was director of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, a top French school

(CNN) -- A 54-year-old educator found dead in a midtown New York hotel room with blood coming out of his mouth was a dynamic and, at times, controversial figure in French academia.

There was "no evidence of a struggle" and no obvious trauma to Richard Descoings' body, New York police Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said Wednesday.

"We are awaiting the medical examiner's determination as to cause of death," Browne said.

Security personnel at the Michelangelo Hotel found Descoings dead in his bed Tuesday afternoon after he didn't check out of the hotel. He had blood coming out of his mouth, the city fire department said.

Descoings was the director of the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, a prestigious French school -- known popularly as Sciences Po -- that has groomed many prominent officials in government and business in France. He was also a member of the French Council of State, a top government advisory body.

In a statement, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France expressed his condolences to Descoings' family, paying tribute to "the exceptional career of a great servant of the state, who devoted his whole life to his chosen cause of education without distraction."

During his 16 years in charge of Sciences Po, Descoings sought to bring more diversity to the illustrious institution, which is part of the elite group of French higher education establishments known as the "grandes ecoles."

He presided over a large increase in the number of international students attending the school, setting up alliances with leading institutions around the world, like Columbia University and the London School of Economics.

In 2001, Descoings introduced a program to promote the recruitment of students from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The approach was applauded by educational reformers but some commentators said it devalued the school's famously demanding entry requirements.

"France has today lost an eminent representative of the French school of political science -- somebody who worked tirelessly for our country's educational influence in the world," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement.

Descoings' wife, Nadia Marik, is in charge of strategy and development at Sciences Po.

Descoings was in New York with about 40 other heads of leading universities from around the world to attend the Global Colloquium, an annual event hosted this year by Columbia.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, addressed the university heads Monday and dined with them, said Martin Nesirky, a U.N. spokesman. He said he believed Descoings was at the event.

Ban and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger issued a joint statement expressing sadness over his 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," the statement said. "He focused much of his energy on expanding access to the university."

The death of Descoings is the second dramatic event involving a high profile figure associated with Sciences Po that the New York police have had to investigate in the past year.

In May, they arrested Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, on allegations that he sexually assaulted a maid in his hotel room.

All criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister who has taught economics classes at Sciences Po, were dismissed in August.

The accusations, which Strauss-Kahn denied, torpedoed his chances of running in the French presidential election this year.

Strauss-Kahn is under investigation in France over accusations of "aggravated pimping" after it was alleged he participated in a prostitution ring. He has pushed back against the accusations, saying he did not know young women at parties he attended were being paid for sex

CNN's Mark J. Norman, Richard Roth and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.

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