I am an assistant professor at a lower-tier research university. Recently I learned that my university and department have a dysfunctional system for reading and evaluating applications to our Ph.D. program.
There is no way to read the applications online, or indeed to collect all the applications together in one place so that applications can be compared. Instead, applications were printed out as they arrive, passed around with a comment sheet on top, and then discussed. This happened several times; after each go-around, the files that were just evaluated would disappear, usually to not be seen again.
As my colleague on the committee put it: "While I took notes, it was incredibly difficult to compare people even a week apart. ... Overall the process was much too opaque for me."
This is in stark contrast to our hiring, for which we used MathJobs. This system is designed perfectly: it provides online, secure access to all the applications online. When I was on our hiring committee we individually read applications in detail (and were able to read the files of candidates on our shortlist as frequently as we wishes). We came to meetings well prepared; these meetings were short, to the point, and resulted in excellent hires.
There is a similar site MathPrograms which we could use for graduate admissions, which is also extremely well designed, requires almost no effort to set up, and which costs well under a thousand dollars. If we were allowed to use this, we could evaluate applications much easier without the Graduate School's "help" than with it.
Are graduate admissions systems this way for some "good" reason which I may have overlooked?
As a faculty member, is there any way I can usefully push for using MathPrograms, or some similarly sensible system?
Who decides how the application process is handled? If it's decided in your department, then I'd think you have a good chance of making it more reasonable --- maybe not anything like MathPrograms that costs money, but at least keeping all the files in one place where you can review what you saw last week. Maybe you can get a secretary to scan the files and make them available on-line to the appropriate faculty members. If the decision is made at the college level, then you may have more work changing the process, but money may cease to be an issue; a big expense at the department level can look trivial to a dean, provided the dean understands how bad the current system is. If you need to deal with a central Graduate School, the subject of "help" (in quotation marks) in your message, then all I can do is wish you good luck.