WordPress on campus

WordPress has allowed John Carroll University to expand its web presence and empower individual staff members to customize their own pages

Back in 2010, John Carroll University did not have a content management system (CMS) to centrally update and maintain its web presence. “It was a mess and we needed help,” says Mike Richwalsky, the university’s senior director of creative services and e-marketing. Richwalsky was tasked with finding and implementing a CMS that could be used across campus by faculty and staff of different technical skill-levels. In the end, he chose WordPress, a free and user-friendly open source CMS. “Ease of use was our deciding factor,” says Richwalsky. “Now we use WordPress for everything—on the front and back end. It’s an incredibly flexible platform.”

WordPress has allowed John Carroll to expand its web presence and empower individual staff members to customize their own pages. “We host over 250 sites, with 300 different people on campus using WordPress,” says Richwalsky. “Everyone’s comfortable using it and our support needs are minimal. We do initial training and then our staff are pretty self-sufficient.” Even though WordPress is easy to use, it is also an evolving platform with a constant stream of new plugins and a litany of ever-changing security concerns. At UBTech 2014 Richwalsky will once again co-host a Special Interest Group session (WordPress & Higher Ed: What’s New?) that will address the latest perks and pitfalls of using WordPress on campus.

Richwalsky acknowledges that, like any CMS, WordPress is vulnerable to security breaches. “A big topic at UB Tech will be how to deal with security threats. The platform is only as secure as you make it,” he says. Richwalsky recommends that CIOs keep all their plugins up to date, think carefully about what data is stored on WordPress sites, and do their homework when it comes to the latest security threats. “There are a lot of brute-force attacks on WordPress [a hacking technique that floods the site login requests],” he says. “At John Carroll, we don’t store financial or student data on WordPress, and we make sure to stay on top of the latest security plugins.”

Since WordPress is an open-source CMS, CIOs can swap plugins and bits of code that maximize the platform for the university environment. “One of the things that’s most exciting about WordPress is that it’s a really big ecosystem,” says Richwalsky. “So while WordPress does the technical heavy-lifting, universities can take advantage of a whole cottage industry of unique plugins and themes.”

Learn more about the upcoming UBTech session “WordPress & Higher Ed: What’s New?” here.


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