Dr. Arthur Stanton Adams, 84, a former university president and provost who headed the American Council on Education here from 1951 to 1961, died Nov. 18 at Concord Hospital in Concord, N.H. He lived in Durham, N.H.

Before heading the council, the nations's principal nongovernmental coordinating body for education, Dr. Adams was president of the University of New Hampshire and provost of cornell University. He was the recipeint of 23 honorary degrees.

In 1962, he was selected by Washington's five major universities to conduct a study, under a grant from the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, joint graduate study programs. At the time, he was heading the Seminar in American Studies in Salzburg, Austria.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Adams served as a consultant for the University of New Hampshire and the New England Center for Continuing Education.

Dr. Adams was born in Winchester, Mass. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 918. He served on active duty as a captain in the Navy twice and was administrator of the Navy's V-12 program during World War II, for wich he received the Legion of Merit. From 1940 to 1942, he was director of the engineering, science and management war training program and assitant dean of engineering at Cornell.

He earned a master's degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley and a doctor of science degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

Dr. Adams was the coauthor of two books, "The Development of Physical Thought," with Leonard B. Loeb, and "Fundamentals of Thermodynamics," with George D. Hilding.

Twice widowed, he was married to the former Dorothy Anderson and Irene Hunt Smith. A son, John, also died. Survivors include six grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Arthur S. Adams Memorial Fund at St. George's Episcopal Church in Durham, N.H.