Humane literacy? An essay on undergraduate education? Isn't it a solecism to broach such concerns in this special issue of The Journal of Southeast Asian Studies where contributors are invited to take stock of the current state of scholarship in various fields of study? My response is simply if not now, then when? I am writing from North America where Southeast Asian studies has gained only a precarious beach-head in the academy and nowhere is this more evident than in the very limited undergraduate investment in our field. Despite the fact that any expansion of academic appointments for specialists on the region will be spurred by evidence of general student interest, a concern with that issue, on our occasions of collective self scrutiny, has been subordinated to questions of research direction, funding strategies, and the prevailing degree of accord between the various disciplines and area studies. But, however ancillary the general education mission of the undergraduate college may seem to professional scholars eager to get on both with their research and the training of graduate students, it is nevertheless a principal responsibility of those deans who control academic appointments. We differ from our colleagues within Southeast Asia where an interest in the region can be either assumed, or expected eventually to develop. While American universities place globalization high on their agendas today, it is not at all evident that their students will wish to study about Southeast Asia rather than, say, Africa or Latin America. So we do need to focus on how we may demonstrate the centrality of what we do to the process of self-discovery and the integration of learning that is at the heart of general education.