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Kyla Howlett is among some 60 doctorate candidates in pharmacy at the University of Montana, and she's not interested in taking pictures with the UM mascot to celebrate her graduation.

"We thought it was laughable that we get to hang out with Monte," Howlett said.

This year, UM is making changes to commencement partly as a way to save money, some $20,000 to $35,000. Among the modifications are plans to hold two large graduations and eliminate individual department ceremonies, although the administration is encouraging departments to host receptions.

In a recent memo addressing concerns about the changes, the administration said families would be invited to the floor of the Adams Center for photos, and "Monte will be there to mingle."

UM is still making changes in response to concerns and in discussion with deans about how to handle hooding ceremonies, said Rebecca Power, one of the chairs of commencement, on Monday. She said more information would be available Tuesday.

However, she said UM included mention of Monte in the earlier memo because it's the first time he'll be celebrating with families after the Adams Center ceremonies.

"We asked him to participate this year as one of the many things we’re doing to up the celebratory component of the event," Power said.

So far, though, the changes have upset students such as Howlett and her classmates and fellow doctoral candidates. For one thing, she said the savings UM might count for the event that usually runs $70,000 to $85,000 aren't much compared to the compensation of top administrators, which include a housing and car allowance for President Seth Bodnar and several salaries of six figures.

She and her peers also have spent some six years studying and on rotation in an intense academic setting, and they've become a tight group, a "pharmily." Howlett said she and her classmates would appreciate commemorating the milestone with each other and the dean and professors who have mentored them.

"Going to the podium to shake the president's hand is not appealing to us because we would rather see the people and the faculty that helped us through a lot of these years," Howlett said.

Once pharmacy students are accepted, they pay "super tuition," she said, an extra $3,000. Howlett said she knows the pharmacy budget is different than the overall budget for UM, but at the same time, she doesn't appreciate the fact that she and her peers are paying more for a ceremony that, at least at last report, would be diluted and fall short in honoring the specific academic achievements of doctorates.

"On our end, it looks like we're paying more, and then we're getting rewarded by this group ceremony that's supposed to be great and bring us all together when in reality, it's just their way of cutting the budget," Howlett said.

In its earlier memo addressing concerns, the administration announced a hooding ceremony at 6 p.m. on commencement day for doctorates, but Power said additional details would be announced Tuesday. The early evening hooding, though, doesn't line up for graduates, Howlett said.

It doesn't make sense for them to head to campus for a commencement ceremony earlier in the day, then return right around the time they're planning to hold their own celebrations with families, she said.

"We are with each other 24-7 for the first three years of our professional careers, and we go through a lot together. We've been through deaths. We're a family now, and we don't get to sit with each other and celebrate each other and get to hear a little bit about each person as they graduate, which is another thing that's really frustrating," Howlett said.

The idea that Monte's presence would alleviate frustrations didn't appease Howlett, but she said it did indicate UM's priorities: "That just shows you how sports-minded the school is."

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.