I attended a public panel discussion not too long ago on the subject of curriculum reform sponsored by the Society for the College, an organization for which I happen to serve on the board. A particular point of contention among faculty was whether or not there should be some sort of writing composition requirement, something that both the Society and panelist Michael Poliakoff of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni support.
Poliakoff's criticism was not welcomed by the faculty who were at this meeting. The faculty, as well as Teresa Longo, our Dean of Educational Policy, insisted that writing was taught by "embedding" it in the instruction of other courses. Instead of completing a Writing 101 type class as students used to some decades ago, today's students complete a Lower Division Writing Requirement- typically in the form of a freshman seminar- and an Upper Division Writing Requirement in the form of a senior colloquium. Students are apparently supposed to absorb this writing ability throughout their coursework without taking a specific writing class.
There is, of course, a tiny snag with this whole setup. It doesn't work. I have had maybe one professor actually take serious instruction time to teach us about quality writing, and his advice boiled down to "read Strunk & White." Sure, the quality of my writing has improved over the last three years, but only because I have figured out what works and what doesn't. If professors are teaching us how to write, they are so brilliantly subtle that no one has noticed. To be honest, I don't want history professors to teach me how to write; I would much rather that they teach history.
No matter how tedious it may be, a lot of students would probably benefit from some kind of composition requirement. If we assume that writing skill is important, it is far better for it to be taught on its own than for professors to awkwardly cram it in next to their research interests. Both my freshman seminar and my upper level seminar were quite writing intensive, and were taught by good professors, but apart from consulting on the content of our papers, we were never given advice on good writing. I suspect a large part of the problem is getting people to spend two and half hours per week teaching composition.