While some kids brag that their dad is a firefighter or their mom is a radio host, Dr. Trudy Govier's daughter used to proudly tell her friends that her mom was a freelance philosopher – certainly not a job description you hear every day.
Govier's career as a philosopher spans more than 40 years. She has published seven editions of a textbook on practical logic and has written or edited 11 books on philosophical issues ranging from trust and forgiveness to transitional justice and conflict resolution.
"I've done a lot of things because I've had a long career, but I also have broad interests," says Govier.
Those broad interests have clearly paid off. Govier was recently chosen to receive the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Association's (CAFA) 2012 CAFA Distinguished Academic Award.
The annual CAFA Awards are specifically designed to honour excellence and raise awareness of the many ways in which the scholarly or creative work of university academic staff members serves the wider community outside the university.
In 2005, Govier shifted her focus from freelancing to academia and accepted a role as a professor at the University of Lethbridge, giving philosophy students the opportunity to literally learn first-hand from the author of their textbook.
"Professors should also be researchers because knowledge is constantly changing, different problems come in and new solutions are proposed," says Govier, explaining the crucial connection between teaching and research. "If people are teaching at a university level but they're not doing research, they might become completely out of touch with new developments."
While Govier has been a part of the local academic community for a mere six years, she has made many contributions including organizing free lectures at the Lethbridge Public Library, as well as starting weekly Philosophy Cafes at the Penny Coffee House and later the Round Street Cafe.
"People appreciated the opportunity to just get out there and have a serious conversation," says Govier.
Although Govier will retire from the U of L in December, she has no plans to slow down just yet. She plans on returning to her freelance roots, with a book contract already in place with Broadview Press.
The book, due to be completed by fall 2013, will look at various ethical issues related to victims. Govier explains the word "victim" has become somewhat of a catch-all term, being used widely to describe everything from victims of cancer to tsunamis to robberies. What's more, its use often puts such victims in passive roles.
From Govier's point of view, our culture has moved from a state where we generally ignored victims to one where we now give them an elevated status that merits an almost heroic position in society.
"My suspicion is that in our recent efforts to not neglect victims, we sometimes have gone to the other extreme and sort of made inferences that victims are completely innocent of everything in all contexts and that they have a level of authority based on their suffering and should receive extra attention. I think this is problematic," explains Govier.
While the research may sound, well, philosophical, it has a wide range of practical implications.
"It is a topic that people run into all the time. It's related to how we, as a society, manage a number of ethical issues," says Govier. "You often see implications of this aspect of victimization in the closure of legal proceedings, in peace processes such as those in South Africa, or in public issues like those related to residential schools or sexual abuse cases."
While there is a lot of research on victims, there is little to none from a philosophical standpoint. Govier admits that it is somewhat of a difficult topic, but she has never been one to shy away from the challenge of doing her own thing.
"I don't think I'm going to win friends by doing this research, but I'm interested in it," says Govier. "I tend to like topics where you can see there are a lot of problems, but there's not a lot of attention given to it. You can make more of a contribution to society then."
Govier will receive her CAFA award in September.
This story first appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the entire issue in flipbook format, follow this link.