GALVESTON—A state district court handed a procedural win to a Texas history buff who wants to save the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) from going woke.
On Tuesday, 10th District Court Judge Kerry Neves turned a temporary restraining order into an injunction—preventing the TSHA from firing its volunteer executive director.
J.P. Bryan is a retired Texas oilman who agreed to step into a leadership position at TSHA last fall to help get it back on track. He paid its bills from his own pocket, as well as restarted fundraising and development efforts. Despite his efforts, the organization’s board called a May 1 meeting, in which it seemed clear that Bryan would be fired. He filed this lawsuit to prevent the meeting.
Neves heard preliminary arguments in the island courtroom on Tuesday.
“I’m an amateur student of history, compared to y’all, but I find it sad that it’s reached this point,” Neves said as he announced his ruling. “It’s a sign of the times, and I find it very distressing.”
Neves set the trial date for Sept. 11, with a pretrial hearing on Sept. 5.
The TSHA is a nonprofit that publishes academic journals, holds conferences and puts out both the Handbook of Texas and the Texas Almanac. It plays a role in how the history of Texas is taught to the Lone Star State’s schoolchildren, but Bryan and other observers believe the TSHA has lurched leftward.
Bryan points to the TSHA’s bylaws, which specifically require the board to be “substantially balanced” between academic members and non-academic members. In Bryan’s view, the TSHA has lost both members and donors in recent years because of a leftward tilt that is only becoming more and more pronounced as academic members gain strength.
“We are disenfranchising our non-academic members, who make up 90% of our membership, because they’re not properly represented on the board,” Bryan said on the stand.
From the outset, the defense’s strategy was clear.
“What we’re dealing with here,” attorney Christopher Raney said, “is a very wealthy person used to bossing people around and getting his own way.”
Raney said it’s been a “power struggle” over a number of issues, and Bryan seeks control over the organization that the board hasn’t given to him.
Bryan countered that he has supported Texas history—and the TSHA—his entire life. This is the fifth time he has bailed out the historical organization, and this time, he said he wanted to do more than throw money at the problem. He led the first audit in seven years, allowing the board to see how much money it had and how much it owed. Bryan also brought in pledges for about $1.4 million in donations, he said.
The defense attorneys—representing TSHA President Nancy Baker Jones—argued that the bylaws were vague. In court, he asked Bryan “what side” he’s on.
“Well, I’m definitely not on the side of the academics when it comes to Texas history,” Bryan said, noting his family’s ties to the founding of the Republic of Texas. “But, I am on the side of the academics when it comes to them having a seat at the table, and representation on the board.”
Bryan’s attorney, Houston’s Eric Lipper, said he expects the defendants to seek a change of venue—to Austin.