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In the week since The Chronicle of Higher Education published its annual survey of university presidents’ pay — a week in which the nation’s economic troubles worsened — several of the highest-paid presidents said that they would give back part of their pay or forgo their raises.

Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said he had never heard of such a wave of givebacks.

“When you see a cluster like this,” he said, “it seems like sort of belated recognition that this presidential pay thing has gotten out of hand. People are getting tuition increases, some faculty are facing layoffs, it just doesn’t look too good for presidents, no matter how capable they are, to be getting so much money. Americans have had a touching faith in higher education; it’s losing its good image with the public.”

The chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, Mark S. Wrighton, who is a former MIT provost, announced on Thursday that he would take a 5 percent cut from his base salary on Jan. 1 and another 5 percent reduction on July 1.

Mr. Wrighton, who announced his decision in an e-mail message to the university community, also pointed out that the university’s endowment had declined about 25 percent since July 1, that some capital projects were being delayed and that faculty salary increases would be lower than in past years.

Mr. Wrighton said he had a base salary of about $560,000 and a total compensation package of about $780,000. He also earns about $360,000 from serving on two corporate boards.

“This was well under way before The Chronicle came out,” Mr. Wrighton said. “I’m generously compensated, I know that. We’re in very difficult financial times. I’m in a position that is not at risk, but the rest of the university community, especially in administration and support, must be wondering if their jobs are secure. I wanted to let the community know that I’m sensitive to the situation.”

On Tuesday, Amy Gutmann, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, and her husband made a $100,000 gift to the university to support undergraduate research. Ms. Gutmann was one of eight private university presidents earning more than $1 million in 2006, a 40 percent increase from the previous year’s pay, according to the Chronicle survey.

In Washington state, where there is talk of deep cuts in financing of higher education, the two highest-paid university presidents announced givebacks last week, as well.

Mark Emmert, the president of the University of Washington — and the nation’s second-highest-paid public university president, according to the Chronicle survey — forwent a raise this year. Mr. Emmert is paid about $900,000 a year from the university, plus $340,000 for serving on two corporate boards.

The president of Washington State University, Elson S. Floyd, who made $600,000 in his first year at the university and received a $125,000 raise over the summer, said he would take a voluntary $100,000 pay cut in response to budget problems.

The median salary for public university presidents was $427,400, The Chronicle said.

Several other college executives have taken similar actions.