Republican Governor Chris Christie’s controversial plan to fold Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University has caught the attention of New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator, Frank Lautenberg (D) who has fired off a letter to President Barack Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan asking him to examine the plan. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D), who is rumored to be mulling a run against Lautenberg in 2014 has now entered the fray.

Senate President Steve Sweeney

Lautenberg’s letter to Duncan reads, in part, “Suspicions have been raised that this decision has been crafted to benefit powerful political interests without regard for the impact of students, the academic institutions themselves, and the community.”

Christie’s proposal is backed by south Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, a close ally of Sweeney.

In an email circulated today, Sweeney says, “Senator Frank Lautenberg's uninformed and vengeful remarks concerning the proposed Rutgers-Rowan merger have done a serious disservice to students and parents across South Jersey. They are utterly false, as well as offensive to the many people giving their time and effort to an initiative that would greatly improve higher education in our region. Senator Lautenberg's bizarre and misguided comments come at a time when New Jersey needs serious leadership on this issue. Our state ranks a dismal 47th out of 50 in federal funding for higher education. That is unacceptable. Yet rather than fighting in Washington on our state's behalf, he engages in unseemly grandstanding back home in an attempt to settle old political scores.”

Norcross just fired back at Lautenberg with his own emailed statement, “I think Senator Frank Lautenberg has been a phenomenal representative for northern New Jersey.  But on this issue, rather than taking cheap shots like a typical Washington politician, the Senator should be rolling up his sleeves and be part of a solution for a higher education model that strengthens Rutgers, Rowan, Newark and our region.  Camden is not in the State of Maine, it's in New Jersey and desperately needs the Senator's help, not his hysteria.  We should all be embarrassed that New Jersey ranks third to last in the United States on higher education funding.  Rather than provoking a political food fight on this, let’s focus our efforts on fixing that disgusting blemish & improving higher education in our State and region.”