Several incidents and articles have precipitated the dark cloud. I have heard arguments lately: we can't exempt students because we will lose sections. Translated: we'll lose revenue. I have done a rough calculation: at my university, we make approximately 20,000 per section by requiring a first-year writing course and hiring part-time teachers to teach it. And about 15,000 for full-time non TT track teachers.
I have been reading articles in Composition in the Age of Austerity. Thanks, Tony & Nancy for putting that together. It's not as if I haven't known what's been going on--but writers in this collection have made the vaguely obvious concrete. Our claim about the necessity of first-year writing is troubled at best (see Crowley). The current logic about teaching writing-about-writing is simply pandering to the administrative bloat: I know I'm not the only one who has noticed the self-referentiality in the logic underpinning the claim that all students should know about logos, ethos, and pathos. Spare me.
Composition in . . . documents our/my complicity. That's the dark cloud. I know that as a teacher I do my best to ignore the ridiculous claims people in our field make in order to professionalize ourselves--and the equally ridiculous language in which these claims are made. I am particularly incensed by compositionists who claim that this course is so important that all students need to take it--and then concede to hiring part-time teachers at slave-wages to teach it.
When Eileen Schell documents administrative bloat in that collection, I think of an organism that feeds on itself. I don't have it quite, but it's like this: the higher level parts feed on the lower levels parts in order to grow, to bloat. After a while, the organism implodes.