1. Academically inclined people who like every working group, believes that solving problems demands more of their own group. Engineers wnat more engineers, accountants, more accountants, etc.
This is a problem in two ways. First, one of those groups- the leadership and administration- is in charge of determining how the pie is cut. Unsurprisingly, over time we find that the people who cut the pie end up with larger and larger slices, and the people doing the baking, rolling the dough, grinding the flour and cutting up the pumpkins (it is a pumpkin pie in our example, because I like pumpkin pie, and if you don't, you can write your own pie-based metaphor) get less and less. Good leadership and management are critical to the success of an organization, but administrative bloat just increases the paperwork and make life more difficult for everyone else. Now the guy rolling the dough has to fill out a bunch of forms and get a performance review, and the guy buying the flour has to go through a complicated procurement process instead of just going down to the store. So this creates inefficiency and waste within the university.
The other issue is the degree to which university education is itself wasteful. We're fed the line that we need more PhDs to be competitive. This is a vicious lie, spread by self-serving academics. One recent article found that only 15% of biology PhDs got a tenure-track job within 5 years of receiving their PhD. I don't know what the figure is these days, but I guarantee you that with the economic downturn and the surge of grad school enrollment after the financial crisis, that percentage went down. I don't necessarily have a problem with a system that rejects 85% of people and keeps only the 15% who are good if the cut is made early. The problem is that you're forcing people to invest 5-6 years in a PhD (perhaps on top of a couple years of MS), and then another 5 years as a postdoc... and then you're casting them off. Training up a bunch of people to do jobs they will never realistically get to do is exploitative, cruel, and wasteful. It reminds me of a parable told by Zhuangzi, about a student who paid a great deal to a teacher to be taught the art of dragon-slaying... he graduates only to find that there's no market for his highly specialized skills, because he can't find any dragons. Grad school is a lot like that.
Graduate school primarily exists to serve one need- not the need of a student for education, not the need of society for a highly educated workforce- the need of academia for cheap labor. Graduate students exist to help teach courses and run experiments, cheaply. They are the cheap, hard-working, moderately skilled migrant fruit-picker of academia. Recently I was given this advice on a grant proposal: don't hire a postdoc, they're expensive and if they're actually any good at all, they'll just try to get a job and leave. For the same price, you get two grad students, and they're guaranteed to stick around for the duration of the PhD. Great. So instead of throwing a lifeline to some dumb bastard of a postdoc who was stupid enough to go into academia, we're going to instead create two new people who will in a few years go on to compete with the first poor fuck in the impossible quest for a tenure track job. But the incentives are structured by the university and the granting agency so that we will end up doing just that.
That's my reward for being in the 15%. I get to go from being the exploited, to the exploitee. No longer a whore, but madam of my own whorehouse. Hopefully I'll still be able to look myself in the mirror in a few years. I try to rationalize what I'm doing by saying hey, at least I'm honest. I tell prospective students just what they're in for. I will never, ever say "in a few years there will be a lot of retirements, and a lot of jobs will become available". They've been saying that for 20 years, and they'll say it for another 20, and it will never, ever happen. And if I ever say that, please shoot me. But there's a problem. Grad students are naive. They're kids. They're young, dumb, idealistic; they think they're invincible. And this generation was told they're all specially uniquely wonderful, and the world exists to grant them their hearts' desire. You give them the reality- the world is cruel, the system is designed to exploit them, not to see them succeed- and they won't listen. It's the Lake Wobegon Effect: everyone is above average. Tell them that only 15% of the PhDs get that research job, and 85% of students think they'll be in the 15%. It's the remaining 15% of students who have the self-awareness to realize that they aren't necessarily going to get a job, they have hope.