In the wrong hands, economics can be drab, drowning students
in a sludge of statistics and line graphs. But to see the
spark in Dr. Albert Okunade's eyes as he discusses the practical
uses of economics is to see that the subject is something
"Economics permeates all human endeavors," says Okunade,
a professor of economics at The University of Memphis. "Whether
we realize it or not, rational beings practice logical economic
thinking to decide how to satisfy unlimited human wants in
the face of limited resources."
A Nigerian-born scholar, Okunade came to the United States
in 1977 and gained his U.S. citizenship in 1994. He holds
a total of four degrees from Wright State (Ohio) University
and the University of Arkansas, and he aims his own love of
learning at his students. The U of M has affirmed his teaching
ability by choosing him as a semifinalist (1997) and two-time
finalist (1994 and 2000) for the University's Distinguished
More recently, Okunade received The U of M Alumni Association's
2002 Distinguished Research and Creative Achievement Award.
He was selected for achievement in business and the social
sciences. A self-professed "research professor," Okunade has
published more than 70 research papers and has given more
than 40 lectures across the globe. He says the work he does
out of the classroom will directly benefit students in the
And though his research often puts him on the road, Okunade
says his top priority is his students.
"The University does not exist independently or in isolation
from the community," he says. "The University is here to serve
the community; the faculty is here to serve the students."
Okunade is confident that serving students is a great way
to achieve a better community. It is a priority that keeps
him close to campus, even during the summer months when he
has no courses to teach.
"Students are around in the summer, so I am still here,"
he says. "I think it is the honorable thing. I get involved
in research because I love it, but I love teaching, too."
Although research and teaching may have their differences,
Okunade believes that good professors must integrate the two.
"There is no dichotomy between them," he says. "I submit
to this sincerely. Good teachers must teach new stuff. Give
students the foundations of the old stuff, but encourage them
to examine new ideas. That is where intellectual progress
Okunade has focused his own intellectual progress on health
care economics and how medical technology has attributed a
significant amount as much as 60 percent to
rising health care costs.
"Technology is expensive," he says. "Individuals, doctors,
hospitals they prefer the 'Cadillac' of health
care over the 'Chevrolet.' So if they are ill, they want
the best. But guess what? The best does not come cheaply."
Medical care improves as new technologies burst on the scene,
but Okunade is an advocate of responsible technological growth
otherwise that very growth can make health care extremely
expensive. For example, he says, the Food and Drug Administration
often does cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses before
it allows new medicines into the market.
Okunade is a proponent of two alternatives to health care
technology that can have an enormous impact on the industry.
The first involves a healthier lifestyle; the second involves
Okunade advocates better nutrition as an effective way to
improve the health care industry, and a less costly one at
that. "Health care is the most expensive way to improve health
status, so I'm not sure why we always opt for health care,"
he says. "We could invest in better lifestyles, but instead
we choose the more expensive way of augmenting health care."
Meantime, Okunade proposes a closer examination of patent
laws. Current patent laws protect a product for about 20 years,
but Okunade says shorter patent lengths would stimulate new
research and improve existing products. Lengthy patents can
become a crutch if they effectively block out legitimate competition.
At home, the presence of three teenage children gives Okunade
more reason to appreciate economics. He and his wife, Olatoun,
are putting their oldest son through college to be an engineer;
the other children are in high school.
Wherever his research takes him, Okunade is confident there
will always be a place for economics. "In general," he says,
"limited resources, unlimited wants, choice, incentives and
the mindset of rational decision-making all make human behaviors