Message from TSHA Executive Director J.P. Bryan to TSHA Membership on June 9, 2023

Your Texas. Your History.

Dear TSHA Members,

I want to express my sincere gratitude for your continued dedication to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) as valued members, active participants in our programs, and avid readers of our publications. I have been involved with TSHA for 63 years of my life, and I deeply value our shared commitment to preserving and promoting Texas history. I served as past president in 1982-1983, and my uncle, Guy M. Bryan, was an original founder of the organization in 1897. The board appointed me executive director on October 21, 2022, and I have offered my services for a salary of $1 per year.

I understand that many of you were unable to attend the business meeting held during our 2023 Annual Meeting in El Paso and may have read about TSHA recently in the media. Regardless of what you may have read or heard, the critically important issue I am trying to resolve at TSHA is the unbalanced composition of our board of directors between non-academic and academic members. Despite TSHA bylaws having always required a balance between non-academic and academic members, the board has operated in recent years with academics having the majority, with a current 12 to 8 academic vs non-academic mix.

When I took on the role of executive director, I immediately assessed our financial and personnel situation. The need for immediate funding and long-term financial planning was evident. Shockingly, TSHA had not prepared an audited financial statement for seven years, which severely hindered our ability to raise funds and attract new members. Generally, a predominantly academic board continually overlooks or undervalues the practical aspects of financial operations and business matters that are critical to an organization’s success. Non-academic board members bring the needed business acumen, financial prudence, and real-world experience, that is missing under an academic majority.

We took swift action to rectify this situation and assembled a talented team at my expense, led by TSHA’s capable director of accounting. In three months, we brought clarity to our financial status and gained a comprehensive understanding of the funding available in our endowments and awards. But most importantly, the highlight was obtaining an unqualified final audited opinion. This accomplishment is crucial for the board to fulfill its fiduciary duties to our members, a necessity in grant and fundraising efforts, and a significant step towards ensuring proper transparency and stewardship of our resources going forward.

Prior to the business meeting in El Paso, the issue of the bylaw violation regarding the unbalance board was brought to the attention of TSHA Board of Directors to seek a resolution to the imbalance of board members, but they refused to take any corrective action. Instead, at the business meeting, a non-academic member nominee was rejected and yet another academic was appointed to the board. This only further exacerbated the issue of an unbalanced board and made clear that there was no intent to abide by organizational bylaws.

Furthermore, on May 1, President Nancy Baker Jones called an emergency in-person meeting of the board in San Marcos. The agenda included plans to eliminate the Executive Director position altogether and extend Chief Historian Walter Buenger's role. See selection from May 1 agenda below:

To address this, I sought an injunction, and Judge Kerry Neves issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction halting the meeting. A trial has now been scheduled for September 11 to address the issue of our improperly constituted board, based on bylaw Article XII.

A lawsuit is nothing anyone wants. Unfortunately, I was left no choice as the board overwhelmed by academic interests showed no intention of adhering to the bylaws and was instead aggressively moving forward with actions that would forever change the TSHA, further exposing it to financial disaster and academic bias.

It is my hope that litigation can be avoided and a resolution can be found outside of the courts, but is vital that we have balanced representation of both academics and non-academics to ensure a comprehensive historical narrative as well as responsible organizational governance. It promotes a holistic approach to history, considers the financial sustainability of the organization, the implementation of strategic plans, and the overall well-being of TSHA and its future.

Academic perspectives are undoubtedly valuable, but it is equally important to have a diverse range of voices and expertise, including those from non-academic backgrounds that can provide balance to historical perspectives. An overemphasis on academic pursuits and prioritizing scholarly interest can inadvertently limit our understanding and representation of the vibrant and multifaceted culture that thrives within Texas history. This can result in the oversight of the contributions from different communities, their unique experiences, and the historical aspects that shape the cultural landscape of Texas.

I urge all of you who love Texas history to support our efforts in rectifying the board's composition by actively participating in our organization and contributing through membership and donations. Together, we can uphold the integrity of TSHA, safeguard our financial operations, and create a more inclusive representation of Texas history and culture. All for Texas – always.

Yours truly,

J. P. Bryan

Show your support

Your donation and membership directly supports the TSHA mission:  To foster the appreciation, understanding, and teaching of the rich and unique history of Texas and, by example and through programs and activities, encourage and promote research, preservation, and publication of historical material affecting the state of Texas.

All Rights Reserved | Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization | Austin, TX

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software